But when he walked into a one-room unit at Audubon Ave., he was appalled at the dwelling's living conditions. Three adults, along with one dog and more than 35 cats, had been living in squalor there, officials say.
"The odor was unbearable," Ross said Wednesday. "There were roaches everywhere, in the fridge and all over the place. It was unbelievable. The odor, the feces, the urine. It was all over the place. [The odor] was embedded in the walls."
After the apartment was condemned Tuesday, one tenant was placed in an upstairs unit while the other two, a woman and her granddaughter, were placed with the American Red Cross, Ross said. The animals that were taken from the space - the dog and about 35 cats - were placed at the city-run Liberty Animal Shelter [LAS]. That, however, has caused a huge problem for the shelter.
Since only 30 to 35 felines can be housed at the LAS at one time, the shelter is experiencing a remarkable strain from the sudden influx. To mitigate the emergency, shelter personnel are making an impassioned plea for animal lovers to provide homes for the kitties who were at the LAS before the Audubon Avenue refugees were transported.
"We were already full when the animal control officer started bringing in cats by the truckload," shelter manager Nicole Dawson said. "This has put us over the edge and then some."
Dealing with an overload
When the Audubon cats first came in, shelter volunteers reached out to other animal welfare organizations to see if they could take in some of the animals. After calls were made to Petfinder, NJ CARES, Lifeline Animal Rescue and St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center, about 20 cats were transferred. In addition, some shelter volunteers have agreed to foster some of the cats.
Now LAS volunteers are hoping Jersey City animal lovers capable of giving these cats a home will come to the center to either adopt or provide temporary foster care to the cats.
"Foster homes are desperately needed to accommodate the need for housing," Dawson added, "and to avoid having to euthanize otherwise healthy cats already at the shelter to make room for new ones."
The Audubon Avenue cats, which Dawson said were in surprisingly good condition, were examined for illness, flea infestation and ear mites. During their stay at the LAS, they will receive vaccinations, flea baths and deworming medications. The cats will also be tested for leukemia and FIV.
But since the cats' previous owner has expressed an interest in reclaiming her animals, they have not yet been put up for adoption.
"We're still trying to determine which cats are hers," Dawson said. "There was a roommate who apparently owned half of them. We still need to wait for more details to come in before we make any decisions."
Ross said the city would request that the women be given only three to five of them should they make a plea for their cats before a judge.
Volunteers from the Liberty Humane Society [LHS], a non-profit organization that raises money for the LAS, said that "animal hoarding" is definitely a problem in Jersey City. Calls from concerned neighbors who don't think the animals are being adequately cared for are common, and LHS volunteers contact the pet-owner directly and try to get them to relinquish some of their animals for proper placement.
This strategy is infinitely better, they said, because it allows the shelter to take in the hoarded animals without stretching its resources to the limit.
When animal control has to step in, however, the impact on the shelter is enormous.
"This is a small shelter with a small staff and we can't handle the influx at one time," Dawson said. "I guess the situation was deemed to need immediate attention. We weren't able to really plan for this."
The Audubon hoard
The women in the house described themselves as animal rescuers, Ross said. The one legal occupant of the apartment, who Ross said was probably in her 50s and on disability leave, presumably accumulated the animals over her 21-year tenancy there.
"She has, like, a total of 50 cats in a one-bedroom apartment. How? I don't know," Ross said. "Where does she fit all these cats? We don't know."
The animals weren't the only reason why the apartment needed to be condemned, he added. Ross observed that the apartment had fallen into such disrepair that necessary sanitary amenities weren't working.
"The toilet wasn't functioning, and there were no walls in the tub area," he said. "It was disgusting. They had to throw buckets of water into the toilet and hope it would flush."
"The place is so bad it has to be gutted," Ross added. "It's unfit. I had to close it down."
Contact information for the building owner, listed on the city's tax rolls as Middlesex resident, was not available at press time. Because the owner had not yet responded to Ross' complaints and legal notices, no summons to the landlord was issued by Friday.
Ross estimated that about 10 more cats needed to be retrieved from the premises.
"Some cats were easy [to catch], and some cats we had to search for," Ross said. "But there are more in there that we couldn't get. It could go up to 50."
Call the Liberty Animal Shelter at (201) 547-4286 for more information.