CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee -(WDEF) The death toll of cats killed as a result of a weekend house fire rises from 12 to 33 and that number could go higher.
When Chattanooga firefighters responded to a burning home on the 1100 block of Elaine Trail, they discovered what investigators are calling the worst case of animal hoarding in recent times.
On Saturday when firefighters entered the home they discovered 50 cats were inside. 12 were already dead. The remaining cats were surrendered by the owner to McKamey Animal Center.
"It is bad. Very bad. Unfortunately they were trapped by the fire. Some of them were under furniture and in closets so they were not as badly injured as the ones that perished in the fire, said McKamey executive director Karen Walsh.
But days after the blaze, many of the cats either died or had to be euthanized as a result of the injuries they sustained in the fire.
The cats that have managed to survive so far are still at risk of dying.
"We're hoping we get full recovery on some of them but we doubt it's possible for all of them," Walsh said.
McKamey workers say this was the worst case of hoarding they've seen due to the number of animals that were trapped inside a burning home. The family who took in those cats were renting the house and are now staying with relatives.
Many neighbors were shocked when they heard so many cats were living in one home.
"Truthfully, I was just so amazed and disgusted and sad and everything else. I can't believe I lived two doors down and I never knew anything about cats," said Betty Fitzgerald as she stood in her front yard.
"I was very surprised and shocked. I know the people and I like them a lot. They're really nice people so you never would have known because we really didn't see the cats," said Eileen Fitzgerald.
Animal investigators say hoarders are usually caught when concerned neighbors or family members turn them in but in this case, none of the neighbors were aware of any hoarding.
"It's not necessarily just how many there are but it's whether you can care for them or not. For some people, five cats may be too many to clean up after and care for. Obviously 50 is too many for pretty much everyone," Walsh said.
If a pet owner is going to have more than 7 animals in their home, they're required to purchase a multi-pet permit.