One by one they emerged-- volunteers and two deputies with the Caledonia County Sheriff's department-- carrying cats from a home on Route 302 in South Ryegate.
"Very frightened, very frightened," said Sue Skaskiw of Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals. "Not aggressive, to their, you know, credit, very frightened."
Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals became aware of the case about a week ago. They say that's when the owner of the house, a traveling nurse, left Vermont with the cats alone in the house.
Sue Skaskiw: I've done a lot of cruelty investigations and a lot of hoarding cases; this is one of the worst. It was horrible. It was horrible.
Reporter Bianca Slota: And what made it so bad?
Skaskiw: Feces, throughout the house. And the amount of feces.
Volunteers say police have been keeping an eye on this house for several months. The sheriff's deputies could not comment on camera, but told us they had a warrant to search for evidence of animal neglect. In addition to 18 live cats, they found 5 dead ones.
Slota: Do you think you caught all the cats that were inside?
Skaskiw: Sadly in this case, I think there are a couple more. And we have traps set outside so hopefully we'll catch outside ones as well. It will be the beginning of the rest of their lives.
While some of the cats were less than happy to be captured, rescuers say they would make great companions. And they are grateful that police across the state are taking cases like this more seriously and prosecuting them.
"It's encouraging in that respect, but there's just that many more that we know are going to follow, so this isn't the end," said Joyce Littlefield of Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals.
All of the cats were taken to Danville Animal Hospital where they are getting full exams. The vet on scene Thursday was not sure what kind of condition the cats are in, though from what WCAX could see they all looked to be well fed.
Police are continuing their investigation and are not sure at this point where the homeowner is or if any charges will be filed.
After the exams, the cats will remain in police custody at the vet until police finish with their investigation. Most of the shelters in Vermont are full right now, so they'll be looking for foster homes for these cats and eventually people to adopt them. They are also looking for donations to pay for care of the cats.