The city of Springfield has offered to assist in the re-homing and adoption of the felines.

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. — A 67-year-old Springfield woman told animal control officials Wednesday afternoon that she’s overwhelmed by the growing number of felines living inside her 850-square-foot home.

Debra Perryman has 80 Bengal cats, a breed resembling a more exotic animal such as a leopard. Perryman said she started out with just two — a male and a female purchased in 2013 for $2,000 each — with the intention of breeding them. But after the first litter was born in 2015, she was too attached to the kittens to let them go. From there, her collection has grown — and she seemingly remained under the radar of animal control or other authorities until two neighbors reported her to Springfield police this week.

“We received two complaints,” Springfield animal control officer Brian Austin said. “The number of cats was greatly exaggerated. The number we received initially was close to 300 cats. We’ve learned that’s not necessarily the case. But there are a heck of a lot of cats here, obviously.”

A neighbor also complained about the smell, which was detectable from the sidewalk outside the home. Austin is giving Perryman a chance to reduce the number of cats to a “reasonable number” in a reasonable amount of time. Perryman believes that number is 20 cats; Austin believes it’s closer to four or five, he said. City and state laws do not limit the number of cats a person may have.

The city of Springfield has offered to assist in the re-homing and adoption of the felines. People interested in adopting one of the cats can call community outreach coordinator Chris Solares at 541-735-5788.

Perryman said she is ready to accept the city’s help in finding homes for some of her cats, but she insists her situation was born out of love and her intentions are good. She devotes each day to caring for the cats.

“I went online and I saw these cats and just thought, ‘Wow, they’re beautiful,’” Perryman said of how her cat breeding began. “And then (I saw) the price of them, and thought, ‘Oh, geez, I’d like to do that, have that kind of income.’ I just absolutely adore them. It just grew without me realizing it. … I would have to say I am overwhelmed.”

Asked how many cats she thinks she has, Perryman said, “I have no idea. But I take care of them well. And they’re all healthy. … I have done everything possible to keep my babies healthy and feed them correctly.”

Austin agreed that the cats are all well cared for, well fed and well watered. Perryman said she goes through 50 pounds of food every two days. She also treats the cats to canned food, goat’s milk and homemade meals, such as scrambled eggs and chicken, daily. “They’re well socialized, I’ll say that. They are better socialized than I thought they were going to be,” Austin said.

But he was stern in his warning to Perryman that she needs to pare down her collection.

“She has some she hasn’t even named yet because she has so many of them,” Austin said. “I can’t imagine how you could keep 75 cats straight, as far as their names. … I can absolutely tell she cares about these cats, which is why I have extended an olive branch out there that, as long as she stays cooperative, as long as she maintains compliance, we’ll work with her to get them out. But realistically, if we needed to, we absolutely could go forward with criminal charges.”

If it comes to that, animal control would have to take all of the animals because of the living conditions, Austin said. Senior and Disabled Services may also need to be involved if the situation escalates, for Perryman’s own health, he said.

Austin said he only saw two litter boxes inside of the home. Two also were visible in the driveway. The cats are trained to urinate on a plastic mat, Austin added, but they also appear to be urinating in other places, including a dustpan while Austin was inside the home. There is no carpet in the house, only hardwood and linoleum flooring.

“Any long-term exposure to the interior of this house, I can’t imagine it being anywhere near good for lungs or (the) respiratory system whatsoever,” Austin said. “I was in there for about 25 to 30 minutes and my throat is already not feeling the best right now.”

Austin said he has never seen a situation with as many cats as Perryman although he knows of another Springfield woman who also has a large number of Bengal cats. In that case, the woman also was reported by neighbors about three months ago because of the smell.

That woman’s cats and home were well cared for and sanitation standards were met. The woman, who also is a breeder, did not lose any of her 40 cats. Bengal cats sell for between $1,000 and $10,000, according to bengalcatclub.com. It is unknown how many of the cats the woman has sold, but she told Austin she planned to downsize.

Perryman said she has re-homed a few of her cats in the past but has never sold them for “top dollar.”

For now, Austin will be checking back with Perryman in the coming weeks to monitor the situation.

“I think she was a little bit bored and was looking for a hobby,” Austin said. “And I think that hobby turned in to where we’re at now.”

Chelsea Deffenbacher is a reporter for The Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard.