100-plus cats found on Two Harbors man's propertyAuthorities said Friday they’ll seek to file animal cruelty charges against the director of the Lake Superior Humane Society after more than 100 cats were found at two of his properties this week, including more than three dozen in various stages of decomposition.
Authorities said Friday they’ll seek to file animal cruelty charges against the director of the Lake Superior Humane Society after more than 100 cats were found at two of his properties this week, including more than three dozen in various stages of decomposition.
Law enforcement raided the Two Harbors home and Duluth Township property of Todd Stoehr, 68, on a report that he was hoarding animals, said Wade Hanson, an investigator for the Golden Valley (Minn.) Humane Society.
A woman renting a trailer on the Duluth Township property was keeping 25 cats in conditions that Duluth Township Police Officer Shawn Padden described as putrid.
“There were areas of the trailer overflowing with cat litter,” he said. “I couldn’t stay in there for more than five seconds.”
But even worse, Padden said, was a pole shed where 20 cats were found in an area “entombed in darkness,” with no windows and no ventilation that reeked of cat urine and feces. Thirty-nine dead cats were found around the perimeter of the shed, Padden said.
Padden said that in his 23 years of police work, including time breaking down meth labs, the smell was “the worst I’ve ever been in.”
A necropsy will be conducted on the cats to determine a cause of death, Padden said.
Investigators then went to Stoehr’s Two Harbors home, where 34 cats were discovered.
“It was slightly better, but still very toxic,” Padden said. “It was a rancid smell. I don’t know how anyone could live like that. … I can still smell it.”
Two Harbors Police Chief Chris Donald said Stoehr was cooperative as the Humane Society and officers went through the home Thursday.
There were 34 cats in the Two Harbors home, Donald said. City ordinance allows only three cats per household.
Padden said he’ll wait for the necropsy results but wants to request that Stoehr be charged with at least 20 counts of animal cruelty, one for every cat found in the pole shed.
“I think there needs to be some kind of accountability for this,” Padden said. “If the Lake County attorney comes to me and says he’ll charge for the dead cats, we’ll do that, too.”
Stoehr declined comment to the News Tribune, referring questions to his lawyer, whom he would not name.
He appears to have a history of hoarding animals. In 1997, fire destroyed a trailer on his Duluth Township property, killing 73 cats and four dogs.
Stoehr has identified himself as director of the Lake Superior Humane Society, and he recently referred to himself that way when trying to promote cat rescue in the community, said Carrie Lane, the animal control officer for the Duluth Police Department.
The Lake Superior Humane Society, completely separate from the Lake County Humane Society, lists a Knife River P.O. box as its address, and its phone number has been disconnected. No tax form 990s, which the IRS requires nonprofits to file, were found for the organization.
Lane said Stoehr would advertise his organization as a no-kill foster care provider for people who want to give their animals away or find a home for strays. Lane believes that’s partly how Stoehr collected the cats and obtained money through private donations and grants.
At least three organizations have given grants and donations to the Lake Superior Humane Society since 2003: $6,000 from the Roger H. and Phyllis Sherman Foundation; $9,400 from the PETCO Foundation, and $2,100 from the Duluth Superior Community Foundation, according to public records.
A spokesperson for the PETCO Foundation said the donations came from store fundraisers, and that if Stoehr is found to be hoarding animals “all connections with him will be severed.”
Stoehr would give cats to homes in Duluth that Lane believes also involve hoarders. She said they initially take in the animals with the intention of providing them a good home.
“A lot of people in this town have been helping him. I think they were well-meaning,” she said. “And I can’t even say he wasn’t well-meaning. He might have been. Sometimes it’s just good intentions gone sideways.”
Many of the animals confiscated from the trailer at Stoehr’s Duluth Township property are available for adoption at the Animal Allies Humane Society shelter, 4006 Airport Road, while other cats were taken the Golden Valley Humane Society for evaluation of their condition.
The cats up for adoption at Animal Allies are in excellent shape despite their former living conditions, said Jim Filby Williams, executive director for Animal Allies. The shelter will waive its $90 adoption fee for the cats through Friday, but is asking adopters and others to help pay for the care the cats have received.
“Thankfully, these beautiful cats escaped a bad situation in remarkably good shape,” Filby Williams said. “These kitties deserve to find a good home as quickly as possible; they have suffered enough.”
Padden said at this point he believes only two of the cats, found together in a cage in the pole shed, will be euthanized due to illness. He said Stoehr was allowed to keep three animals at his Two Harbors home under city ordinance.
The Two Harbors police chief said Stoehr’s home will be monitored, but that’s not enough for his neighbor directly to the east, who said he’s packing up and moving to Silver Bay.
“We’ve pretty much had it,” Kip Cardinal said. “We’re walking away. It’s pretty hard to take when you go out in your back yard and all you smell is cat piss. It’s not worth it.”
He said his home probably will go to the bank. He won’t try to sell it, Cardinal said, because of the problems with Stoehr.
“You sell it to someone else and they’ll come back and sue you,” he said.
Lake County News Chronicle Editor Mike Creger contributed to this report.