Don’t assume loved ones are OK, family of cat breeder/hoarder says
ALPENA — Appearances can be deceiving, say family members of Candice Massey, the Alpena Township cat breeder whose death in a car crash on New Year’s Eve led police to a house where dozens of cats struggled to live amid the chaos and unsanitary conditions of a hoarder’s home.
Animal control workers pulled 39 cats from the home since discovering the animals roaming amid garbage, destroyed furniture, and feces.
On Wednesday, Alpena County Animal Control Officer Michelle Reid said workers could find no other living cats, and the remaining animals — which she believed could number several dozen cats that had been alive as of Sunday — were presumed to have died.
People familiar with Massey as a breeder of the rare Havana brown cat probably knew her as a woman who was polite, easy to get along with, and highly intelligent, said her brother, David Massey.
Others encountered a woman hostile and aggressive, alienated from her family and refusing to accept help for the hoarding tendencies that kept her life in hidden turmoil for decades, the brother said.
People who say they are OK may not be OK, David Massey said, urging people to check on their loved ones, even if they don’t ask for help.
“They won’t tell you something’s wrong,” he said. “They can be lying through their teeth rather than tell you things are the way they are.”
‘A CAT NIGHTMARE’
David Massey gave his sister her first two cats about 40 years ago. From there, he said, “she turned into a cat nightmare.”
Within several years, Candice Massey had established a name for herself as a breeder of Havana browns, a rare cat raised by few breeders in the country.
She also developed a hoarding habit, her brother said.
Discovering the unsafe conditions in which she lived, animal control workers forced the breeder out of her Detroit home around 2005, bringing in wheelbarrows to cart out debris and animal carcasses, family members confirmed.
Candice Massey moved to Alpena Township to care for her aging father, Bob Massey, who operated a marine salvage business based in Alpena.
When the elder Massey died in 2014, his daughter remained in the home, but, her brother said, slept in her car in the driveway in recent years because the house had become uninhabitable.
‘THOUGHT THINGS HAD GOTTEN BETTER’
David Massey exchanged emails with his sister regularly and received one from her the night she died, wishing him a happy new year. She planned to fly to another state in mid-January to deliver a cat to a buyer, he said.
According to Reid, the animal will be delivered to its purchaser as soon as it is deemed healthy and animal control officers can plan the delivery.
David Massey knew of his sister’s hoarding history but did not visit her from his downstate home. Her house had lost heat, he knew, but, “I thought things had gotten better,” he said.
Police told David Massey his sister died after she had a heart attack while turning onto Golf Course Road from U.S. 23-North late on Friday. Paramedics restarted her heart and got her to the hospital, but medical staff couldn’t save her, he was told.
Her health had probably been compromised by years of living around cat-related fumes, he surmised.
When he asked her if she was OK, she told him yes, he said.
“All she had to do was reach out and say, ‘Help me,'” the brother said.
Candice Massey’s condition had not gone unreported, said April Halaby, niece of the Massey siblings.
Her aunt, though unpleasant toward many humans, did care about her cats and thought she was taking care of them, Halaby believes, but the breeder refused to seek medical care for her animals and allowed them to live in horrific conditions for more than a decade.
About a dozen years ago, Halaby visited her aunt’s Alpena Township home to stay with her grandfather while Candice Massey attended a cat show.
The niece was appalled to find some 50 cats living in deplorable conditions in half of the house, especially in a bedroom where most of them stayed, some sleeping on the flattened bodies of other cats that had died.
At the time, she contacted animal control officers and social services workers in Alpena but was told the agencies could legally do nothing to help Halaby’s grandfather, who told workers he did not wish to be removed from the home, Halaby said.
The animal control officer told Halaby he was not able to enter the house to confirm the cats’ condition, and Halaby, to her regret, had not photographed the home before she left, not to be allowed to return because of her aunt’s anger at her niece’s reports.
Animal control was not under the auspices of the Alpena County Sheriff’s Office at the time, according to Sheriff Steven Kieliszewski.
The News has not yet confirmed whether any social service agency responded to any complaint regarding Candice Massey before her death.
Living out of the area, Halaby gave up trying to help her aunt, hoping someone in the Alpena area would see she needed help and provide it.
Then again, had anyone offered help, her aunt would probably have rejected it, Halaby said.
David Massey agreed.
People in dire circumstances, whether because of a mental, physical, financial, or other challenge, can become too embarrassed to let people help them, unwilling to let anyone see the depths to which they’ve sunk, he said.
Don’t trust a loved one who says they don’t need help if your gut tells you otherwise, David Massey pleaded, weary from days of grieving the loss of a sister and confronted with a horrors-filled house that suddenly belongs to him.
“If it takes a trip, go see them,” he said, voice tight and eyes glistening. “Even if you’ve got to get on the bus. Whatever way you have to do it, get there.”
The cats rescued from Candice Massey’s home, currently housed in cages at the former Alpena County Jail building, will be placed into the care of a rescue organization, which will provide medical treatment for the cats and coordinate adoptions once the animals have been returned to health, Reid said.
David Massey said he may bulldoze his sister’s house.