Near as we can figure, the property had always been overrun with feral cats. Made sense: escapees and teenage cat pregnancies were probably responsible for the initial population, and apartment complexes offered plenty of shelter, warmth in the winter, and scraps to dig out of the garbage. The crazy cat ladies would often feed the strays, too, inadvertently swelling their population.

It’s the latter fact, I think, that got the cats thinking. The complex was mostly disassociated from the owners, who rarely acted except to fix reported problems or evict deadbeat tenants. If the crazy cat ladies had a little food, how much was stored away in their houses? If there was heat near the dryer vents, how much was there next to the dryer itself?

We think the cats took over the first apartment from the inside–likely a housecat convinced or coerced into opening a window or door. Tenants commented on how the strays seemed to have disappeared, but just assumed that animal control had been through on another one of their sweeps. The landlords also noticed that a tenant had started signing their checks with a stamp, but since the bank had no problems with the practice, neither did they.

After some time, people began to complain of a smell and the near-constant noise of cats issuing from one of the apartments. The landlord never got around to acting on any of the neighbors’ complaints, though, as they ceased as soon as they’d begun. In fact, it was a considerable length of time before anything more was heard out of that entire building.

No one suspected anything amiss until a rent check bounced, and no one answered the phone at the offending apartment. No one responded when eviction papers were served, so eventually the landloards got off their duffs enough to call the police. Officers had to break down the door in order to gain access.

Inside, they found over 150 cats and the remains of the former tenant, mostly just bones and gristle. A hole had been gnawed in the screen over an outside window and in the dropped ceiling, allowing for unlimited ingress to the apartment and easy access to others as well. Careful investigation revealed that all the apartments in Building 4 and seventeen other apartments across the complex had been so occupied. Nearly 1000 cats were bagged, enough to overwhelm nearby shelters, though even more escaped the purge and continue to loiter nearby.

The one thing we have so far been unable to determine is how the cats were able to stamp and seal envelopes bearing rent checks with no thumbs. All signs point to a single polydactyl cat, “Mittens,” who some suspect to be the ringleader.

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