The city of Highland Park fined residents Jorjick and Agnes Badalpour over $21,000 on Thursday for mistreating 21 Persian cats the couple kept in their garage for years.
The Windsor Road couple was after the city's no-kill animal shelter removed 21 Persian cats from a garage that had no ventilation, no light and only one litter box.
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Kelly Moyer, the Tails of Hope founder who rescued the cats, testified during Thursday's hearing that the garage reeked of cat urine and feces when she first stepped foot in it in June. Because the long-haired cats had never been groomed, their fur was matted to the point that many could barely move.
"You couldn't tell that they were cats," Moyer said. "They were covered in feces."
Using a cell phone as an improvised light, Moyer and a few volunteers walked on a floor slick with cat urine to get the cats out of the garage. Moyer testified that the Badalpours were not much help.
"He wouldn't speak to me," Moyer said about Jorjick, who was the only Badalpour present at Thursday's hearing.
Moyer said that when Badalpour did attempt to assist her, he just made things worse.
"He grabbed a cat by its tail and said, 'I think this one's dead,'" she said.
'My marriage was in jeopardy'
During the hearing, Badalpour expressed appreciation to Moyer and those who took the cats out of his garage. Badalpour had been reaching out to local animal shelters trying to find a group willing to perform such a service.
"I appreciate your help completely," he said.
His appreciation shifted to dismay, however, after administrative hearing officer Scott Levenfeld handed down the over $21,000 fine.
"I don't have the money," Badalpour said. He told Patch he had recently declared bankruptcy and his house is on short sale. "They pulled the rug under me."
Though Badalpour admitted his family "fell behind" in their care for their cats, he didn't think he'd face such costly repercussions once a group saw what condition the garage was in.
"Do not call these people, because they slam them with the book," Badalpour said about Tails of Hope.
Badalpour told Levenfeld during the hearing that his wife was the primary carer for the cats, and that the trouble started when she fell ill about a year and a half ago. Though he wanted to get rid of the cats then, he knew his wife wouldn't stand for it.
"My marriage was in jeopardy," Badalpour said. "If I were to say to her, 'Me or the cats,' she would have said, 'Cats.'"
Things got worse, he said, when his daughter's epilepsy grew more severe.
"My wife loved cats, she took care of them better than I did," Badalpour said. "Then she got ill and my daughter's epilepsy got worse."
At that point during his remarks, Badalpour broke down and began weeping.
"This is not about my cats," he said in between sobs. "This is about my daughter's health."
'The court has an obligation'
For city attorney Andrew Fiske, however, the hearing was very much about the cats. During his questioning it was revealed that 80 percent of the garage floor had been covered in feces. Many cats suffered upper respiratory problems and all needed to be shaved because their fur was so matted.
"It's literally beyond belief… that anyone would allow this situation to exist," Fisk said.
Fiske questioned two women who helped Moyer rescue the cats as well as the the officer who cited Badalpour for animal cruelty. They testified that four of the rescued cats died as a result of their poor living conditions. Some cats had their tails amputated. Some had skin that was so rotted it made one of the technicians throw up.
"The cruelty and disregard," Moyer said, "I've never seen anything like it."
Before handing down his decision, Levenfeld expressed his sympathies to Badalpour for his family's health problems.
"The court is sympathetic," he said. "But the court also has an obligation to enforce the laws as they're written."
Levenfeld found Badalpour liable for Keeping Animals in Unreasonably Offensive Conditions, fining him the maximum $500 plus $40 court fees. Then he found him liable for all 21 counts of Unlawful Treatment of Animals, and fined him the minimum $1000 per count plus another $40 court fees. The total fines levied against Badalpour were $21,580.
After the hearing, Badalpour seemed stunned. He sat in a chair outside the conference room in city hall, wondering how he would be able to come up with the money to pay the fine and wishing he had never called Tails of Hope to begin with.
"I expected a fine … but I can't pay that," he said. "Had I known this was going to happen, I would have done something else."