ROSWELL, N.M. – A routine traffic stop on the 400 block of South Main Street early Wednesday morning led to the discovery of dozens of neglected and malnourished cats being kept in the back of a truck.
At 1:42 a.m. Wednesday, police pulled over a U-Haul truck driven by 71-year-old Michigan resident Mary Jane Lyle because one of the rear taillights on the vehicle was out.
As the officer spoke to Lyle, he heard suspicious noises coming from the back of the U-Haul, according to Robert Giles, public information officer for the Roswell Police Department.
“Our officer heard a cat that appeared to be injured in some way,” Giles said.
Lyle informed the officer she had a cat. The officer then opened the back of the U-Haul and discovered 63 cats, two of them dead, crowded together amidst luggage in the small space.
The cats were “in various stages of health,” Giles said.
Lyle was arrested and charged in Municipal Court Wednesday with 61 counts of cruelty to animals. She pleaded not guilty, and a trial date has not yet been set.
Giles said Lyle was traveling from Minden, Mich., to an undisclosed address in Tucson, Ariz. U-Haul International informed the RPD that Lyle had rented the truck on a local-only contract in Minden.
The cats were turned over to Animal Control, where Dr. Bruce Gammil of South Springs Animal Hospital was called in to examine them for feline leukemia and other diseases.
Gammil said he tested two cats from the group, and both were negative for feline leukemia. However, he cautioned that this does not necessarily mean all the cats are negative.
Feline leukemia is a viral disease that is easily spread from one cat to the other, especially when the cats are sharing close quarters, Gammil said.
“Cats that are in a high-population area like that are prone to get leukemia,” he said.
The cats Gammil examined were mainly neglected and malnourished, and some had respiratory infections and skin parasites, he said.
Gammil said he could not say what had killed the two dead cats.
The sudden influx of cats at Animal Control at first posed the threat of overcrowding. The facility has 18 cages for cats in the general population, and another 13 in the quarantine room, which is usually reserved for wild, sick or injured animals.
Joseph Pacheco, Animal Control supervisor, said the facility rounded up enough cages to house all the cats, borrowing cages from the Roswell Humane Society next door.
Roswell’s Special Services Administrator Larry Loy said the facility has never dealt with this many cats at once before.
“We’re doing okay right now,” Loy said. “The initial impact was kind of stressful. We’re not set up to take in that many animals at one time.”
The cats had to be kept separate from the animals already housed at the facility because of the possible spread of disease.
According to Giles, the examination determined that as many as 75 percent of the cats will need to be euthanised. Police are now in the process of obtaining a court order to have the animals put down.
Pacheco said he expects none of the cats will ever be adoptable and eventually all will need to be euthanised.
These kinds of animal cruelty cases are unfortunate, Pacheco said.
“Me personally, I hope they get her for the cruelty charges,” he said. “I hope there’s justice out of this.”