Julie Hoover-Shaw said she was relieved to see the Nevada Humane Society and a group of volunteers from a national animal rescue organization converge on her quiet Virginia City street Monday morning.
For the last 11 years, her ex-husband, Rick Hoover, lived next door to her. By all accounts, Hoover was a hoarder. But it was more than filth that collected inside the ramshackle home he'd built at the corner of Washington and M streets in Virginia City - he also unintentionally collected cats, said Hoover-Shaw.
"He was kind of a crabby guy," she said as a light rain and wintry winds raced up the steep street, "but he loved his cats."
Hoover-Shaw said she'd tried for years to get the Storey County health department to do something about the property and Hoover's circumstances. And something was done, according to a notice nailed to the doors of the property: The home had been condemned in 2004, 2007, 2009 and as late as Sept. 9. But he still lived there with his cats.
On Oct. 3, friends became concerned about Hoover. They found his body inside the home.
Hoover-Shaw said her 61-year-old ex-husband had been in failing health, and she often told him he'd "become cat food" if he didn't do something about his circumstances.
But those cats were his family, she said, and Hoover didn't listen.
When the coroner removed his body from the property, they saw the dozens of cats milling about three-story building.
Storey County has no animal shelter, so officials called the Humane Society for help, said Kimberly Chandler, humane society marketing manager.
The Nevada Humane Society in Reno does not accept animals from outside of Washoe County, she said, but these circumstances were unique. Chandler scouted the mountain town for a location to put a temporary shelter, and the Silverland Inn & Suites obliged.
So on Monday morning, eight volunteers - armed with protective gear, masks and gloves - waded into Hoover's house and removed 11 cats. They'll return today to get the remainder, said Beth Gammie, emergency services manager for RedRover, an animal rescue group that focuses on rescuing animals in crisis situations.
Gammie said the cats taken from the Washington Street home will spend the night at the Reno shelter, where they will be checked by a vet and spayed and neutered this morning. The cats will then be returned to Virginia City and housed at the temporary shelter in the basement of the Silverland.
RedRover volunteers will man the shelter for 10 days, by which time Chandler hopes area residents will take over until the cats all find homes.
For Hoover-Shaw, just knowing the cats will live in better conditions makes her happy.
"I'm very grateful the Humane Society stepped up immediately," she said. "He just loved those cats. He brought three inside and they just made families in there, and it got bigger and bigger. But he liked them all."
YOU CAN HELP:
To help meet the need of caring for these cats, the Humane Society is requesting help from the community. Three things are needed:
• Donations for supplies, medical care and food (cost of caring for a cat is usually $240, and sick or injured animals have an even greater cost).
• Volunteers to help facilitate adoptions, provide cat care at temporary shelter, and provide foster care, all in Virginia City.
• People willing to adopt cats from the temporary shelter in Virginia City.
If you can help with this rescue effort by donating, volunteering, or adopting, call Kimberly Chandler at 775-856-2000, ext. 324.
Donations may be sent to Nevada Humane Society, 2825 Longley Lane, Reno 89502. Please indicate if you wish them to be earmarked for the Virginia City cats.