NORTH OGDEN -- Nobody took notice of the small cardboard box, sealed shut with tape, sitting on a North Ogden porch Saturday.
It was only when the dog of Adrienne Zubiller's neighbor took a second sniff that the two women paused long enough to hear feeble mews from inside the container.
Zubiller opened the box to find two weeks-old kittens, near death from lack of food, water and oxygen.
The next day, the grandchildren of another neighbor found the pair's five siblings in a bush.
Zubiller said on Friday someone had trapped an adult cat and left it sitting in the sun for hours. It was later moved to an apartment complex community room and never given food or water. She believes the cat died.
She thinks it was the kittens' mother, and she's frustrated that someone would let a cat starve and then abandon kittens to die in a box.
"I know there's a major problem with cats, but we need to take care of it humanely," she said. "How can someone live with themselves knowing they killed something that way?"
Zubiller filed an animal abuse complaint with North Ogden police.
The experience is just one example of a larger problem, Zubiller said. In a civilized society, she said, animal abuse and neglect should not be the issue it still is.
Carl Arky, Utah Humane Society spokesman, said shelters are increasingly taking in more animals as people struggle in a down economy. He said many animals were obviously pets that either had been abandoned or brought in by their owner.
As people struggle with money, paying for pets can be one of the first expenses to go, Zubiller said.
Arky said a rise in mortgage foreclosures has also forced many families to give up loved pets when they move to a no-pets-allowed apartment.
The Weber County Animal Shelter has not taken in more animals, but the Davis County shelter has seen an increase, employees said.
Many people have brought in healthy looking animals and claimed they were strays, said Sgt. Brandon Toll, Weber County Animal Shelter interim director.
He said residents having problems with stray cats need to either call animal control or trap the animals to bring into the shelter. Most shelters will rent traps for a small fee.
Some people are hesitant to bring a pet to the shelter, thinking it will be euthanized, so they take it to the countryside.
"Most people think, 'Oh, cats can take care of themselves.' They think they're independent, but I've found they're really vulnerable," Zubiller said.
And both Toll and Arky said most of the animals at the shelter are adopted into new families.
With the problem growing, Utah legislators passed a law last year making torture of a companion animal -- a domesticated dog or cat -- a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Under state law, intentional cruelty to an animal is a class B misdemeanor, and intentionally torturing or illegally killing an animal is a class A misdemeanor.
Arky said animal abuse and neglect is a measure of how people treat others and how advanced a society is.
Zubiller agrees, saying, "The more we tolerate cruelty in these types of situations, the more it's going to lag from 3-week-old kittens to children and to the most vulnerable in society."
For now, she is trying to do her part for the seven abandoned kittens and hope police will charge the person who put the animals in the box.
She also hopes to find permanent homes for the kittens, but at the very least needs to find people who will care for them until the shelter can take them, which is when the kittens can eat solid food.
Anyone interested in helping can leave contact information for Zubiller through Ogden-Weber Community Action Partnership by calling (801) 399-9281.