Portrait of Thom StromerIn October 2021, the Humane Society of the United States arrived in Muncie, Indiana to assist local police in rescuing of dozens of cats from an alleged severe neglect situation. Video producer Thom Stromer joined the HSUS Animal Rescue Team to assist with the rescue and document the scene and the condition of the animals. This is his edited story as told to All Animals editor/writer Brianna Grant.

I was very nervous the day of the rescue. Not only was it was my first time shooting video footage in my new role at the HSUS (I joined the organization last September), but I also felt aches of empathy and compassion for the animals and person who lived in the house we were heading to.

We approached the house on a tiny side street in our large vehicles. The house had so many bushes and trees growing around it that you could easily walk by it on the street and not know it was there.

Rescuer in protective gear approaching the exterior of the house where an alleged neglect situation is taking place.
Protective gear keeps rescuers safe and healthy when responding to cases like this one.
Meredith Lee

Inside, it was dark and filthy. Adam Parascandola, vice president of our rescue team, said he thought the buildup on various surfaces had accumulated for at least 10 years. It was horrible for both humans and animals. It looked completely unsanitary and unsafe. There was also a strong musty smell of urine and feces, although the N95 mask I was wearing helped protect me from the odor. I was thankful my colleagues had warned me about the smell ahead of time.

Earlier that day, our rescue team had conducted their initial assessment and begun collecting the cats. When I entered the house two hours later, the team was still going. A lot of the cats were surprisingly friendly and that was really heartening. We got 30 cats out: The first 15 were super easy to put into the carriers, but the last 15 were skittish and difficult to rescue. At one point, cats were darting all around the house as rescuers worked to catch them. We all had to move very slowly and purposefully so as not to accidentally injure a scared cat. Some had breathing issues and two were rushed to the emergency veterinarian. Most had dirty coats; they couldn’t clean themselves properly as there was no place to sit in the house without sitting in filth.

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The day was difficult, both physically and emotionally. I tried to channel my energy into filming, but it was vital to also remain aware of my surroundings. Sometimes I can get lost in the viewfinder of my camera, but on this day I had to move around deliberately and carefully. Shooting in situations like this is a delicate balance of staying out of the way while capturing all of the action. Carrying my camera gear on my back while navigating through the house created another obstacle. At some points during the day, my glasses were steaming up due to sweat.

After about 20 minutes inside the house, my eyes started streaming tears from the scent, just pouring out. The rescue team told everyone that we should only be in the house for short periods of time for safety reasons, and then we had to rotate out. They were so attentive to everyone’s needs and I was very grateful to have them looking out for everyone on the scene.

Adam Parascandola, vice president of the animal rescue team, handles a cat.
Rescuer Adam Parascandola handles a cat.
Meredith Lee

Throughout the hours-long rescue process, I was so impressed with the team’s professionalism, organization and compassion for the animals and each other. They had such a finely tuned operation. As someone new to the organization, I was impressed that we were joined by Kitty Block, HSUS president and chief executive officer. She just threw herself right in there to help with whatever was needed. She was hands-on and a great example to the whole team.

After the rescue, the cats went to a temporary shelter to receive the love and care they deserve. I know that they are going to find great homes. To know they’ll be out of that environment and in a clean, safe place makes all the work worth it.

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