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Former New Minas woman banned from owning animals for life following SPCA cat hoarding investigation

A dumpster sits outside a New Minas house where animal protection officers seized 18 cats during the course of a three-and-a-half-month investigation in 2016.
A dumpster sits outside a New Minas house where animal protection officers seized 18 cats during the course of a three-and-a-half-month investigation in 2016.

KENTVILLE, NS - A former New Minas family had good intentions, but they became overwhelmed after trying to help several cats.

Charges were laid against Johanna Steadman, 58, and her daughter, Teresa Steadman, 34, following a three-and-a-half-month investigation by the Nova Scotia SPCA into a cat hoarding situation at an Old Farm Lane property. A total of 18 cats were eventually removed from the house.

The co-accused were charged jointly with causing an animal to be in distress; failing to provide an animal with adequate food and water; failing to provide adequate medical attention when an animal is wounded or ill; and confining an animal to an enclosure or area with unsanitary conditions so as to significantly impair the animal’s health and wellbeing.

The Steadmans pleaded not guilty to all charges against them in February. The matters were adjourned to April 12 for trial but Johanna Steadman changed her plea to guilty to the charge of causing an animal to be in distress.

All other charges against her and all charges against Teresa Steadman have been dismissed.

Prior to being sentenced, Johanna Steadman said “the kids” came everyday to feed and give water to the cats. She said she “didn’t do the hoarding” but takes responsibility for it. “We fed the cats outdoors because I wouldn’t see an animal starve,” Steadman said.

Judge Alan Tufts pointed out that she wasn’t before the court for hoarding but because cats were in distress as defined by the Animal Protection Act.

Banned from owning animals

Tufts accepted a joint sentencing recommendation from Crown prosecutor Jim Fyfe and Nova Scotia Legal Aid defence lawyer Brian Vardigans. Johanna Steadman has been handed a lifetime prohibition against owning animals.

The court granted one exception: Teresa Steadman is allowed to have one cat that can reside in the same home as her and her family. The cat must be checked over by a veterinarian, be spayed or neutered and must have a microchip implanted for identification purposes.

If any other animals are found in Johanna Steadman’s custody, animal protection officers can seize the animals without a hearing. Animal protection officers must attend the property during daytime hours and knock and announce their presence when checking for compliance. If there is no response, a notice will be placed on the door.

Fyfe said that although the SPCA incurred approximately $11,000 in costs over the course of the investigation, the Crown is not seeking restitution because Steadman is unable to pay.

Home condemned

Fyfe said that on Aug. 3, 2016, the SPCA received a complaint alleging that an orange cat had been left inside a home previously occupied by the mother and daughter. Animal protection officers attended on Aug. 4 and found a number of cats meowing in the window.

An odour was noted from the driveway and garbage could be seen in the windows. Animal protection officers entered the house, which has been condemned. Conditions were unsanitary; dirt and cat feces were everywhere and the countertops were loaded with rubbish. The inside window panes were “dripping with condensation.” A window at the back of the house had been left about half open.

Investigators tried to contact the occupants but were unsuccessful; the family had relocated to the Kentville area.

Investigators had to wear a version of HAZMAT suits to look through the debris to find the cats. Fyfe pointed out that up until a short time before the SPCA investigation began, the family had been living in the house in these conditions.

Eight cats – four adults and four kittens – were seized on Aug. 5 and taken to the SPCA shelter. They were covered in scabs and fleas, flea dirt, were thin and “smelled terrible,” he said. All of the cats gained weight and their overall health improved after being seized, Fyfe added. There was “no underlying medical cause” for their poor health.

“Certainly, the cats were in distress as defined by the Animal Protection Act,” Fyfe said.

Investigators returned to the property several times over the next few months to make sure all cats were removed. They would leave food and water. In total, 18 cats were seized. Fyfe said it’s possible that some of the cats were hiding or couldn’t be seen by investigators at first or more cats could have been getting into the house as the days progressed.

Fyfe said that as the hoarding continued and more cats arrived, “this was a situation that became overwhelming” for the family.

Family meant well: lawyer

Fyfe said the Steadmans showed up at the home on Aug. 5 and indicated they were the cat owners. Teresa Steadman, who has mental challenges, was “quite upset” and “anxious to see her cats.”

Vardigans said the individuals involved are “well-meaning and love cats.” For example, three of the cats were rescued following a house fire and others were strays. The Steadmans were trying to do what they could to help the cats but they were living in poverty and couldn’t afford veterinary care.

Vardigans said Teresa Steadman is very fortunate and thanks the SPCA for allowing her to have one cat. He said keeping the animal was “important to her physical and mental well-being.”

Tufts said that although the situation became overwhelming to the family in their circumstances and he understands how it happened, “there were other alternatives.”

He said the resulting prohibition against Johanna Steadman “could have been much more restrictive.”

kstarratt@kingscountynews.ca

Cats in the New Minas home.

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