UPDATE - The Pennsylvania SPCA said late Thursday it will charge the owner of the cast rescue with violations of the cruelty code following the seizure of more than 200 cats from her property Wednesday. The PSPCA did not identify the woman in its statement, but the Inquirer reported she is Alaine Jacobson who ran Animals in Crisis, a shelter for stray and feral cats.
The specific charges are still to be determined as the PSPCA continues its investigation, the group said. The revised total number of cats removed from the Frankford home Wednesday was 239. an additional 40 cats were surrendered earlier, but the PSPCA said she has said she will not sign over the rest. Surrendered cats will be made available for adoption but the remaining several hun.
The PSPCA estimates the cost of care to be in excess of $100,000. Under a newly enacted state law, an individual charged with animal cruelty must surrender their animals or pay for their care for the duration of the court proceedings..
The saddest cases of animal rescue are those involving pets who have to be rescued from their "rescuers."
That's what's happening in Philadelphia where tonight PSPCA officers are in their twelfth hour of work, removing cats from two over-crowded, ammonia-fillled rowhouses in the Frankford section.
The sheer number of cats, at least 260 plus 30 that were removed a few weeks ago, made it one of the PSPCA's largest rescues ever, second only to the infamous Tiger Ranch near Pittsburgh where more than 500 cats were seized from horrendous conditions.
The Philadelphia property was operating as a cat rescue called "Animals in Crisis." The owner, Alaine Jacobson, tells on her website of saving feral cats from the old Whitman's Chocolate Factory, delivering food to stray cat colonies and helping provide spay/neuter services in the community.
But according to the PSPCA conditions inside Jacobson's "sanctuary" had gotten seriously out of hand.
Now the cats are being examined by veterinarians, vaccinated, given flea and tick treatment, and housed in a temporary cat shelter.
Some of the cats have been surrendered by the owner and, of those, a handful are already available for adoption. One went home with a new family this evening, said spokeswoman Sarah Eremus.
My colleague, Aubrey Whelan, filed this story for the Inquirer today:
For years, the residents of Fillmore Street say, the 1600 block of this tiny residential street has seemed home to more cats than people.
That's where a woman named Alaine Jacobson ran an animal-rescue non-profit out of two adjoining row houses, midway down the block in East Frankford.
Cars pulled up to drop off unwanted cats. Enormous bags of cat food sat piled in the lot next door. In the summer, neighbors say, the stench of cat urine soaked the block.
At some point, a sign was tacked to her fence: "I'm The Crazy Cat Lady," it read, "And This Is The Crazy Cat House."
On Tuesday, human law enforcement officers from the Pennsylvania SPCA showed up with a warrant at the front door of the Cat House.
Inside, they were met by more than 260 cats.
They'd spend the rest of the day wearing respirator masks and latex gloves, carrying the animals out in crates.
Animals in Crisis, Inc., is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit that, according to its website, purports to "do the work the PSPCA should be doing."
Jacobson, listed in tax returns as the non-profit's president, did not return a call for comment.
On its website, the charity describes its mission: "The number of cats being thrown out far exceeds the number of homes we can find, so we are forced to keep many of them and make them as happy and healthy as possible."
A "community outreach" page details its participation in local adoption events, a partnership with a spay-and-neuter van and a feeding program for "colonies of stray cats" that set food out at 22 different locations.
Neighbors said Jacobson was possessive of her burgeoning slate of houseguests - and never averse to acquiring more.
"There's really no stray cats around here," said Charmaine Gary, who's lived on the block with her fiance for four years. "She gets them all."
Jacobson - described as a petite woman with a shock of white hair - doted on her cats, scheduling grooming sessions for her favorites and shaving one to look like a tiny lion, Gary said. She once offered to spay Gary's own cat and treat it for fleas.
"She seemed nice," Gary said. "But the house was foul."
PSPCA officials wouldn't identify the owner of the home. But they said they'd been in contact with her for several weeks.
At first, PSPCA spokeswoman Sarah Eremus said, the owner was cooperative and offered to work with humane officers. Later, she rescinded that offer. That's when officials came back with a warrant.
"She's very bonded with the cats - she's had them for a long time," Eremus said. "But while she had some she was willing to part with, there were too many others she wasn't willing to part with."
In a press release, PSPCA officials said the house was unsanitary - and that the owner had good intentions but had simply gotten "in over her head."
The humane organization deals regularly with hoarding cases. But the house on Fillmore Street was something different, Eremus said - one of the largest rescues in the organization's history.
It's unclear whether charges will be pressed in the incident, and veterinarians are examining the cats for infectious disease, Eremus said.
On Tuesday, the reason PSPCA officials donned respirator masks was to ward against the high levels of ammonia in the house as they carried cat after cat to waiting vans.
All the while, Eremus said, the home's owner remained inside.
"Understandably, she's having trouble with it," Eremus said.