The recent rescue of nearly 40 cats from a Clarkston residence is prompting an animal defender group to plead for people to get their pets spayed and neutered.

Helping Hands Rescue of Lewiston recently captured the abandoned cats from a home where the former resident had moved away. The man — whom they declined to name — started out with a few cats. But the animals were not spayed, and within a few years the home was overrun and the cats were out of control.

When the house sold, the cats were left behind, said Cathy Carlson, a member of Helping Hands. When the new owners came in, they were shocked to find more cats than they could number, including a dead one behind the couch.

“We’re trying to educate,” Carlson said. “It’s not only the population explosion, but these cats are so screwed up — they’re interbred. They’re all nice cats, but there’s sickness everywhere.”

Carlson said the cats' owner attempted to provide some care for them.

“He tried to find help,” she said. “But he had to leave, and he was going by feeding them. He was trying to take care of them.”

But there were more than just hunger problems.

Because the cats had interbred for so long, they had multiple health and developmental problems and many had stunted growth. A couple of them that were about 7 or 8 years old weighed less than 5 pounds each — about the weight of a small kitten.

And although the rescuers managed over the past three weeks to capture or trap most of the cats, Carlson said many of them were not socialized to people or even other animals.

A local veterinarian is working with the group, and so far all the captured cats have been spayed or neutered and received immunizations and antibody shots. Carlson said the animals were spoken for quickly, and all of them have been placed in foster homes as outdoor barn cats.

Although extreme, the situation is not unique. Every year, cats and puppies are abandoned when owners find themselves overwhelmed with new litters and don’t know how to take care of them or where to turn for help, Carlson said.

“We’re just trying to educate people because we’re coming into the kitten season right now, and there are lots of these situations,” she said. “Cats are everywhere. So it gets kind of crazy.”

Until the end of February, Helping Hands is offering to pay for half of the veterinary bill to have cats spayed or neutered. As a standard practice, the group offers to pay a third of the cost of veterinary treatment if people can’t afford it.

The members of Helping Hands Rescue rely on donations and an annual spaghetti feed to raise money to support their work. This year, however, the spaghetti feed was canceled because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“We want people to know that we will help so (their pets) are not getting sick,” Carlson said. “The sad thing is, this guy (who abandoned the cats) thought he was doing the right thing. But you can’t have that many cats and not have them fixed.”

Anyone wishing more information about Helping Hands Rescue may visit the group’s Facebook page, the webpage at www.helpinghandsrescue.org or call (208) 743-3157.

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.