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Real estate agent finds cats in vacant Massapequa house

Authorities rescued the cats and condemned the house.

Authorities rescued the cats and condemned the house. Newsday's Steve Langford reports.  Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware

Were it not for a compassionate real estate agent, around two dozen cats and kittens still might living in dreadful conditions in a long-neglected home in a well-to-do Massapequa neighborhood.

Tammy Gatto — whose last name happens to mean cat in Italian — has informally rescued animals for years so she at once knew something was amiss when she saw lots of cats entering and exiting the vacant house hidden behind the overgrown shrubs, next to the one she was selling on East Shore Drive.

"How is it," she wondered, "is it that this house, in the midst of these million-dollar homes, is being left like this?"

"I saw multiple amounts of cats and raccoons hanging out in the backyard," said Gatto, of Signature Premier Properties in Dix Hills.

Speaking with neighbors and then the tenant, she learned he no longer lived there but returned occasionally to feed the animals. Granted permission and securing the key, she and animal rescuer John Debacker of Long Island Cat & Kitten Solution, a Freeport nonprofit, entered the house Wednesday.

Gatto said she had to wear two masks — "I had to throw my shoes out after I left."

Said Gary Rogers, Nassau County SPCA board president, "The house was in atrocious condition, with feces and urine throughout."

Six cats, locked in a room, are being evaluated to see if they can be adopted, he said.

The rest, which may be feral, will have to be caught and examined, possible candidates for a trap, spay and release strategy, Rogers said, as there appears to be a local cat colony.

The two-story house has been boarded up and condemned by authorities; the SPCA is investigating and the tenant may still have a rabbit, Rogers said, saying the room where it was kept was also covered in filth.

"Our first priority is the animals," he said.

To Rogers, this particular kind of mistreatment is far more common than possibly the neighbors may have realized. "We see these hoarding situations all the time; the landlord never went to the house to see was going on — and this is the outcome."

The landlord could not immediately be located for comment.

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