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Exotic cat find in Charles Town leads to cruelty charges

June 14, 2012|By BILL KOHLER | billk@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — A man is facing animal cruelty charges after police found 10 exotic African cats in his vacant property last month.

Ryan Houde, 28, of Charles Town, was charged with 10 counts of animal cruelty, according to a news release from the Charles Town Police Department.

Houde turned himself in on June 5, police said, and posted bond of $7,500.

On May 19, officers responded to a home at 51 Shutt Court after a man who was checking on the house reported what he believed to be either a cheetah or leopard in the basement.

Police found what was later identified as a Serval cat housed behind a wooden fence enclosure in the basement of the home, which was in foreclosure proceedings and appeared to be vacant, police said.

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Officers later found nine more cats — called Savannahs — roaming the living areas of the home. Police said the home was in extremely deplorable condition with urine covering the floor and feces were found throughout the home.

The Serval cat was removed from the residence the next day by East Coast Exotic Animal Rescue of Fairfield, Pa., police said. An officer was stationed at the home overnight to make sure the animals stayed contained.

Charles Town Police Department Sgt. A.J. Mancine said in a phone interview Thursday night that officers weren’t sure what they had discovered.

“We had no idea what it was at first,” Mancine said, adding that the officers used their smartphones to identify the cat as a Serval.

During the removal of the remaining animals, an officer was bitten by a Savannah and required treatment to both hands. Police said the animal was euthanized and tested immediately, according to state law. It later tested negative for any disease, police said in the release.

Mancine said the Savannah was apparently trapped in a wall and while trying to get it out of the wall it bit through the officer’s leather welding gloves and pierced his thumb through the nail and through the soft skin on the other side of the thumb.

Mancine said officers were at the home for more than 12 hours on the day they removed the cats.

The remaining nine animals were released by Houde to East Coast Exotic Animal Rescue, which is equipped to handle these types of animals, police said.

Mancine credited the rescue group for doing an “outstanding” job in assisting in the removal.

Police said that Serval cats are a wild African roaming cat. The one removed from the Charles Town home was about 2 feet tall and 3 feet long from head to rump. It weighed about 35 pounds. Police said it was most likely kept to be bred with domesticated cats, producing the Savannah cats that were roaming the home.

Servals can run up to 50 mph and jump 7 to 9 feet in the air, according to various conservation websites.

Police said the property was declared uninhabitable and was condemned on May 21.

Mancine said the case demonstrates that wild animals are not meant to be kept as pets.

“These are not designed to be pets,” he said. “The dedication and commitment required to maintain them is incredible.”

Police also noted that keeping wild animals is a violation of Charles Town City Code.

Shutt Court is a cul de sac off Perry Drive, which is off St. Augustine Avenue on Charles Town’s southwest side.

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