EDITOR’S NOTE: The charges against Renzo Zanipolo were dropped on December 10, 2019.
Residents of a cul-de-sac in North Charleston have learned in recent days that for probably several years now, more cats than people have occupied their neighborhood.
And, until recently, the four dozen felines all lived under one roof.
Renzo Zanipolo, 62, was arrested on Tuesday for animal abuse.
Staff at the Charleston Animal Society said they are working to rehabilitate the cats and place them in appropriate homes, while Zanipolo insists they have been well cared for.
For animal keepers who have taken custody of the cats, this episode is the latest in a number of apparent high-profile hoarding incidents in recent years that have put many animals at risk.
In December 2015, more than 100 animals – 72 rabbits, 32 cats and several dogs – were removed from a North Charleston woman’s home, Gayle Hall.
“Several rabbits and cats were in pens with litter boxes overflowing with excrement. Many had no drinking water or food, ”said an affidavit of arrest at the time.
Cases like Hall’s and the most recent case in North Charleston are among the most serious, said Aldwin Roman, senior director of cruelty and awareness for the Charleston Animal Society. On average, the company will help treat animals from similar backgrounds once a year, he added.
“We can’t do it alone,” Roman said. “We need the community to get involved. If you see something, you need to let someone know. We cannot be everywhere at the same time.
Kay Hyman, director of community engagement for the animal society, said the extraction effort in North Charleston came at a time of year when the shelter is particularly inundated with animals, especially cats.
More than 40 of the cats taken from Zanipolo’s New England home are still for adoption, she said.
“What I can’t forget in my mind,” Zanipolo said in a recent interview before his arrest, “these are the cats that I have had for so long… I love them so much.”
Indigo, Po, Deon, Cienna, and Cosma were among the cats Zanipolo said he was particularly close to.
“I don’t know what to do because I haven’t done anything wrong,” Zanipolo said. “I fed my cats twice a day and took care of them for 11 years.
Two cats had to be euthanized, Roman said. One after being removed from the house and another from the kittens born after the removal, Roman said.
Several more were found dead inside the residence, although Roman does not know how many.
“From what I understand, the level of decay of the cats would have made it almost impossible to determine the time of death or what they died of,” he said.
The health of each of the cats ranged from “very sick” to “relatively healthy”. The vast majority of cats, Roman said, have upper respiratory infections. Some, according to animal society, were considered wild.
For three days, between April 28 and May 1, officers and animal control authorities combed the house and recovered 43 cats, authorities said. Of these, three litters were born after being removed from residence.
Police said in a report they believed there was more to be recovered, although some may have dispersed when those responsible were at home.
The officer who first responded to the house to conduct a welfare check – after worried neighbors reported vultures circling around and a rotting smell that blanketed the area – noted saturated hallway floors urine and feces.
“The great thing that always stands out is when (cats) start to urinate in the house,” Roman said. “When you have a cat? It smells. Two cats? It smells. When you have 50, it actually starts to increase the ammonia levels in the air.
“If you have that many animals in one space, you can actually create dangerous situations, not just for animals, but for humans,” Roman said.
Those who wish to donate to the Charleston Animal Society which will be used for the care of cats can do it here.