01/09/2012 03:10 EST | Updated 03/10/2012 05:12 EST

31 cats hoarded in abandoned B.C. house

Dozens of cats and kittens have been rescued from an abandoned house on a ranch near Ashcroft, B.C.

The SPCA says 31 cats, many of them very young, have been rescued and taken to a shelter in Kamloops.

"Generally speaking, there were only about six or eight cats that were two years of age or slightly older. The majority of these cats seemed to be between three to six months of age, so it's a very odd file," said Kent Kokoska, an animal protection officer with the Kamloops SPCA.

He said someone walking through land belonging to the Sundance Guest Ranch found the animals in an abandoned building and called RCMP.

House reeked of feces

People in Ashcroft say cats have been disappearing for months, and "lost animal" signs have papered the community.

Linda Semke's cat, Flash, vanished on May 18. She thought someone had been poisoning the animals, but when she heard of the abandoned house teeming with cats she went to check it out.

"The doors and the windows were boarded shut with big huge nails, like somebody was keeping the cats in the house," said Semke.

She and her husband peered through the windows, and saw several darting around inside.

"It's a disgusting, rundown, old abandoned house. It was nothing but cat and rat feces, and then you could hear cats running by and you could see like little shadows running by," she said.

"I was just appalled. We had flashlights and it was just horrid. You couldn't get 10 feet into the building. The stench was just overwhelming, it was gross."

Semke said it appeared someone had moved things around to create a living space, and a propane heater and a bed were found inside.

By the time Semke got to the house, she says the SPCA had rescued many of the cats.

But her cat, Flash, was not one of them.

"The ones that I seen looked to be in pretty good condition," said Semke. "But there's at least a dozen cats still in that place."

SPCA has 'person of interest' with history of hoarding

Authorities are trying to track down a person who the SPCA has dealt with in the past. Kokoska says the person has a history of stealing and hoarding animals.

"We have somebody we're interested in speaking with who may have moved them to that location as part of our attendance to their residence. That's a concern that we have," said Kokoska.

He says animal hoarding isn't isolated to the Ashcroft area, and is a real problem in communities across B.C.

"They see an animal they are compelled to scoop it up and bring it back to an animal hoarding type of scenario."

He recommends animal owners get their pets microchipped and tattooed, and keep them close to home.