Omaha man sentenced for animal cruelty after authorities find dozens of cats living in filth

Investigator: Animal waste in the home ‘had accumulated over many months or even years’
An Omaha man will spend the next month behind bars for an animal cruelty case that was investigated just nine days ago.
Published: May. 19, 2022 at 6:04 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A 50-year-old Omaha man was sentenced on animal cruelty charges Thursday — nine days after investigators found dozens of sickly cats living in deplorable conditions.

Dale Hickman, sentenced to 30 days in jail after he pled guilty Wednesday a misdemeanor count of animal cruelty, was initially arrested at 2:14 a.m. April 30 on unrelated charges: second-degree assault and use of a weapon after he reportedly hit someone in the ribs and leg with a three-foot-long metal pole during an altercation at his home. Hickman waived his preliminary hearing on that case Thursday; his bond was set at $70,000.

While Hickman was in jail to face the assault charge, Omaha Police received a tip that a relative had been caring for his 20-30 cats at his home near Fourth Street and West Center Road.

The tipster told OPD that many of the cats at the home were sick and in poor conditions, saying they believed some of the animals had mange.

WARNING: Details below may be disturbing for some in our audience.

It turned out not to be the first time Hickman had been investigated for having so many pets. In June 2019, police helped Hickman reduce the number of cats — he again had 20-30 cats at the time, as well as a dog — sending 21 of them to the Nebraska Humane Society. Douglas County court documents state that he was also given five vouchers to spay and neuter his remaining cats at a low cost, but those vouchers were never used.

In February 2021, police investigated another complaint at his home. Hickman admitted he had taken on more cats, having 19 this time, in addition to the dog. According to court records, police noted at the time that his home was within sanitary conditions but that the odor was becoming more intense.

He surrendered two cats at that time and claimed he found homes for several others.

Dale Hickman
Dale Hickman(Omaha Police Department)

When police investigated the most recent tip, they found the conditions had deteriorated. Court documents state that officers could smell — from outside the front door — a very intense odor of a decaying animal and a strong odor of cat urine. Once inside, the responding officer said his eyes and throat were burning from the strong odor of cat urine.

Nine cats were impounded a few days later, and at least 10 more were observed around the home, the report states, noting that it was too difficult to count exactly how cats many since many had similar appearances and were running and hiding while officers were processing the scene.

There was a large pile of cat food dumped on a coffee table, but there was no water for the animals, which was also of greater concern because of the heat, the report states. Litter boxes were full to the point of containing to visible litter, and every room had an abundance of urine and feces. The basement contained mounds of animal waste that had molded over in some places and obstructed passage in others. Officers said the hardwood floors on the top level of the home were saturated with urine and “squishy” in places.

“The amount of urine and feces that I observed would likely have accumulated over many months or even years,” an NHS investigator wrote in the report.

Many cats were missing some or most of their fur, which was filthy and discolored; had scabs in places without hair; and several were acting strangely, the report states. Most of the cats observed also had nasal discharge and smelled of urine or ammonia.

The home was extremely dilapidated; there were padlocks on the doors, a log was being used to keep another door closed from the outside, trash strewn about the yard, and an interior railing was almost entirely hanging off the stairs. Officers said there was no electricity or air conditioning, which was of particular note as temperatures had been in the upper 90s; the only ventilation to the home seemed to be two open windows where the cats could get outside.

Code enforcement was notified, and “the house was closed, tagged, and declared uninhabitable,” the court document states. The house is scheduled to be “reviewed for demolition.”

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