Officials are calling a home in Weston, owned by a New York City pet shop owner, one of the worst cases of “animal hoarding” they’ve ever seen.
Hundreds of exotic birds, snakes, and reptiles — many in poor condition or dead — were found in the Weston home on Thursday, Sept. 15.
More than 130 live birds and 90 snakes were removed from the house at 82 Newtown Turnpike. Many were thin and malnourished and were living in cages covered in filth, according to authorities.
The remains of hundreds of dead birds and snakes were also found in the house and an outbuilding, which was also full of live birds and was being used as an aviary.
“The condition inside the residence and the outbuilding where many animals were kept alive or dead was horrific,” said Weston Police Sergeant Patrick Daubert, who coordinated the rescue of the animals and is handling the investigation. “It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced or even heard of in my 20 plus years in the law enforcement profession.”
Weston Animal Control Officer Mark Harper said he has never seen such deplorable conditions, and called the incident “a horrendous case of animal cruelty.”
Veterinarians with the South Wilton Veterinary Group were called to the scene, and, in triage-like fashion, examined the animals to determine which ones needed urgent medical care. They brought several birds that were sick and could not travel back to their clinic for help.
The Fairfield County Hazardous Material Unit, Westport Police Department, and Weston Fire Department, all provided resources and personnel to ensure the environment was not a danger to workers or the public.
Volunteers with Rhode Island Parrot Rescue in Warwick, R.I. arrived on Friday and removed birds from the aviary outbuilding. Parrots, macaws, and cockatoos, were among the exotic birds that were rescued.
Rainforest Reptile Shows of Beverly, Mass., also came to the house and took custody of the reptiles which included non-venomous snakes such as ball pythons.
All the rescued animals were put in clean cages and are now receiving food, water, and medical treatment. “There will be a process to determine the ultimate home of the animals, said Daubert. They are safe, secure and being well cared for,” he said.
The value of the birds and snakes is estimated at about $100,000.
The animals were found on Thursday afternoon around 2:45 after Weston police were summoned by a resident who reported a foul smell coming from near the home. “Usually, a smell like that comes from a dead body,” police said.
There was no one at home at the time, and that’s when the birds and snakes were discovered. Because the smell was so strong, Weston Police Sergeant Travis Arnette, an initial supervisor of the case, asked the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for assistance and a HazMat team arrived to help. “You could not go into the house without a respirator,” police said.
Mark Cooper, director of health for the Westport Weston Health District, inspected the house which had electricity but no running water. The Weston Building Department and Fire Marshal also inspected the home and declared it “uninhabitable.”
A large amount of feces, urine, and the decaying remains of birds and snakes was found throughout the home, a sign of “animal hoarding,” where a higher than usual number of animals are kept without the ability to properly house or care for them.
Cooper said while he has come across homes where there was hoarding, this was one of the worst he has seen because of the animals involved.
However, he wanted to reassure people that there were no health threats posed to the public. “There is no threat to anyone, the impact is limited to the inside of the house,” he said.
Following the discovery and rescue of the animals, police called the property’s owner, Daniel Kopulos, who has owned the home at 82 Newtown Turnpike since 2009.
Daubert said Kopulos came to the property after he was called. He acknowledged he had been living at the house and told police he planned to stay there overnight. Daubert informed him that the house could not be inhabited, and Kopulos left.
Daubert did not elaborate further about his conversation with Kopulos. Daubert said police are conducting an investigation and are working with the state’s attorney’s office. He said he expects charges will be forthcoming.
He said Kopulos has been cooperating with police throughout the investigation. When asked if he knew why Kopulos was keeping hordes of birds and snakes in his home, Daubert had no comment.
According to the website faunanyc.com, Kopulos is the executive director at Animal Preservation Alliance and the founder of Fauna, an upscale pet store which until recently was located on the upper west side of New York City.
A call made to Fauna in an attempt to reach Kopulos has a recording that says the number is not in service.
Online stories about Kopulos paint him as a quiet man and dedicated bird lover. A 2011 story by the New York Times, titled A Menagerie Where Pets Do the Staring, called Kopulos a “soft-spoken bird whisperer.”
A 2013 story by The Epoch Times, praised Kopulos for annual pilgrimages he made to Guatemala to save endangered scarlet macaws.
A post on Facebook dated Sept. 10, which has since been deleted, said the Fauna pet shop had recently moved to Yonkers. “Hi Everyone,” the post said. “We are moved into our new location located in Yonkers, but unfortunately Verizon has failed to get our phone line and internet transferred. It looks as though it may be several more days before it is all set up properly.”
Help the animals
Animal Control Officer Mark Harper said he hopes people will make donations to Rhode Island Parrot Rescue, an all-volunteer group, to help defray the costs of caring for the birds.
“These poor innocent creatures are victims. I hope Westonites will help the organization that dropped everything to come to Weston to get the birds out. This is going to be a long process, but this group deserves and needs money. What would we have done without them?” he said.
The rescue group is accepting donations on its website, riparrots.org. Click on the tab marked “donate & wishlist.” Donations should be marked “Weston Birds” so they are applied to this case.
Acting Weston First Selectman Dennis Tracey commended the response to the situation. “This was an excellent example of coordination of agencies, municipal, state and private organizations. Everyone came together to solve our horrific problem,” he said.