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Police Investigate Cruelty to Cats Trapped in Ridgewood 'House of Horrors'

By Gwynne Hogan | August 11, 2017 10:38am | Updated on August 14, 2017 8:20am
 A black kitten trapped in debris inside a demolition site, one of dozens of cats rescuers are trying to save.
A black kitten trapped in debris inside a demolition site, one of dozens of cats rescuers are trying to save.
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Courtesy of Michael O'Neil

RIDGEWOOD — Police are investigating animal cruelty at the Onderdonk Avenue building dubbed the "Ridgewood House of Horrors" where dozens of cats were found abandoned, starving and injured as contractors began to gut renovate the home. 

Police opened an animal cruelty investigation after volunteers pulled 12 cats from the the wreckage of 778 Onderdonk Ave., a NYPD spokesman confirmed, and are looking into whether criminality was involved in the demolition or if chemicals we're being used to harm the cats sequestered there.

Cat rescuers reported seeing bottles of bleach and ammonia scattered throughout the building when they went in to begin trapping cats on July 30.

No arrests had been made as of Thursday, a police spokesman said, and the investigation was ongoing.

Landlord Isaac Silberstein denied any wrongdoing, and said contractors didn't know about the cats in the building until about a week after they started the gut renovation. Workers broke into a hole in the ceiling of the third-floor apartment where a hoarder woman lived and found dozens of cats hidden there, he said.

"I’m definitely not responsible as to what happened there," he said, adding he would cooperate with police, though he had not been contacted by investigators yet.

"I will see if they ask me and whatever I have to do I have to do," he said. "They will get to the bottom of the story."

As demolition began in mid-July, neighbors started to smell cat urine, and one claimed to have seen a cat jump out of a construction dumpster. When they finally went into the building they saw pieces of cats who'd been killed during the demolition.

Silberstein said he'd never seen any evidence of dead cats, and said his workers halted construction once they found the them.

The landlord claimed that his contractors at Y&Z Developers, Inc. then hired another company to get rid of the cats. But the contracting company denied that, saying the landlord had hired someone to get rid of the animals.

"I will wait until the investigators figure everything out," Silberstein said. 

After the volunteer-staged rescue, the city's Animal Care & Control stepped in to trap the rest of the cats. Silberstein says the agency declared the building cat-free this week, though ACC didn't immediately confirm that.

Department of Buildings spokesman Andrew Rudansky said they are monitoring the site closely, though no construction was taking place when an inspector stopped by on July 31. Silberstein had stopped construction voluntarily, he added.

Meanwhile, the squad of volunteer rescuers are desperately seeking adopters and foster homes for around 25 traumatized cats they pulled from the building, neighboring backyards and some they took back from ACC, which had slated around 10 cats to be euthanized, they said.

"These cats are not unfriendly, they're just shy," said Jacqueline Skaggs, who helped capture several cats and is caring for one in her home. "She lets me pet her but she still kind of cowers."

"They'll totally warm up eventually and become lap kitties, but it just takes time," she said. 

Last year the ACC euthanized 2978 cats, 976 of which were considered treatable and manageable, according to statistics from the agency.

You can contact Carissa Aguirre at a Tail of Two Kitties for information on how to donate to, adopt or foster cats rescued from Onderdonk Avenue.