0

'It got out of control'
Man cited with neglect of 41 cats

LAWRENCEVILLE - For eight days straight, Linda Underwood caught cats in traps outside her home and called animal control to get the felines who had overrun her Oak Grove Circle neighborhood.

On Wednesday, animal control officers caught 41 more, many of which were kittens, inside the house across the street.

The house, which also contained two dogs, had ammonia levels at toxic levels and was declared a health hazard by the health department.

"Twelve months ago, I had four cats. It got way out of control," homeowner Stephen Ragnar Ramstadius said as he loaded belongings into his truck in the rain. "I want to apologize to my neighbors because I'm sure it hasn't been pleasant."

Ramstadius asked police officers, who obtained a search warrant Tuesday, to take possession of his animals, said Cpl. Darren Moloney spokesman for the Gwinnett County Police Department.

Ramstadius, who Moloney said is about 45, has been served with 43 animal neglect citations, misdemeanors which carry maximum penalties of $1,000 fine and 30 days in jail for each count, according to the police.

Moloney said investigators believed more cats were inside the residence, when officials left the scene after noon Wednesday. Non-lethal humane traps were set inside the home and will be checked daily, he said. All of the animals were taken for treatment.

"The ultimate goal will be to rehabilitate all of the animals so that they will be fit for adoption," Moloney wrote in e-mails. "It will be a while before anyone will be able to adopt these animals. They are all going to a vet for a thorough examination. These things take time."

Underwood, who lives across the street from Ramstadius, sat on her porch with neighbors to watch as HazMat, fire, animal control, health and police officials searched the house and trapped animals Wednesday.

With a trap in her front yard, Underwood said neighbors have tried to protect property for months. One neighbor even put an electric fence around her garden to keep the cats out.

"They use my flower bed as a litter box. They sleep on my lawn furniture, tear up my wicker," Underwood said, adding that she's allergic to cats. "It's just been cat after cat after cat."

While they weren't happy about the publicity for the community, neighbors said they were glad to see the authorities at the house Wednesday. The smell, they said, had already improved.

"It's something to be concerned about," Quay Taylor said of the toxic fumes in the house.

She said Ramstadius had lived in the neighborhood more than 10 years ago and had been married until about six years ago. While she and Underwood said they did not know him well, they said they believed he worked on computers from home.

But on Wednesday, Ramstadius was forced to leave.

According to Moloney, officials will meet with the homeowner today to discuss steps that have to be taken before the house can be habitable again.

Vernon Goins, spokesman for the Gwinnett Health Department, said he expected some extreme measures to be required, including removing the flooring, sheetrock and ceiling.

"The feces and insects, fleas and such, we are concerned about carrying disease," Goins said. "This is the third time we've required something that extreme in the county, to strip it down to the two-by-fours."

Goins said there were dead animals inside the house, although Moloney could not confirm that.

"It's always sad to find someone in that situation because they are trying to do good but it's misdirected," Goins said. "I'm afraid it's gotten more and more common."