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When Helping Becomes Hoarding

What happened to Haven Acres Cat Sanctuary?

Rescued cats were loaded onto trucks at the Haven Acres Cat Sanctuary. Photo by Matt Stamey.

It’s one of the largest cat hoarding cases in history. But not long ago it was celebrated as a haven for abandoned kitties. What happened to the Haven Acres Cat Sanctuary?

Pennie and Steven Lefkowitz have been charged with 47 counts of animal cruelty after authorities discovered and seized approximately 700 cats at their Florida sanctuary.

State Attorney Bill Cervone said that the couple actually had their hearts in the right place before they became overwhelmed by caring for the mass of cats.

“These people started out well intentioned … but they were in way, way, way over their head,” Cervone said. “I am optimistic we will be able to resolve something with them that will address the mental health issues that I believe they have and prevent a recurrence.”

Pennie herself gave indications, two months ago, that the sanctuary was in trouble. “I was just tired of seeing so much euthanasia and wanted to know what we could do personally,” she told MSNBC.

Haven Acres in its earlier days

In its earlier days, all indications were that Haven Acres was just what the name described: acres of cat haven. There were volunteers helping out, regular adoptions, and good care of the felines. The sanctuary had been profiled on TV, had received a $3,000 grant from the Petco Foundation, and was a group member of Best Friends Network Charities.

Today, the cats who are most urgently in need of care are in a warehouse that’s serving as a makeshift shelter. About 100 of them have already been euthanized. The rest have been receiving treatment and are being spayed and neutered by University of Florida veterinary students. They will be put up for adoption in the coming weeks.

What went wrong? How do good intentions and a generally well-managed situation go so wrong?