21 dogs & cats removed from house

Woman to be charged with animal cruelty

MOST OF Virginia Wetzel's Port Richmond neighbors never saw her bring home a dog or a cat.

But they could hear constant barking from her house on Monmouth Street near Belgrade all day long, block residents said. And none of them - absolutely none - was safe from the odor of urine and feces that permeated the air, and their homes.

"My son can't open his windows because of the smell," said Mary Beth Sgrillo, 40, whose home faces one side of Wetzel's property. She was one of many neighbors who said they had run-ins with Wetzel over the years.

Wetzel, 70, was arrested early yesterday after a Pennsylvania SPCA raid.

PSPCA officers, acting on a tip from the agency's hot line, entered the two-story home at about 8:30 a.m. and found the remains of four animals, and 21 live animals - 12 cats and 9 dogs.

Wetzel is expected to be charged with 21 counts of animal cruelty, one for each living animal, said police and PSPCA officials.

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When the pooches and kitties were taken outside by PSPCA officers, the animals appeared surprised by the world, said resident Kathleen Haldeman, who witnessed the scene.

"It was like they never felt air touch them before," Haldeman said. "It was something new to them."

The home had no running water or bathroom facilities, said George Bengal, director of law enforcement for the PSPCA.

It took PSPCA officers two hours to clear a path of junk to reach the animals, Bengal said.

The second-floor middle bedroom had five cats and a foot deep of feces, he said.

Bengal said that it seems like every three months the agency enters a home with animals living in filth and each time he tells the media it's the worst case he's seen.

"But this, by far, is the worst one," he said.

A forensic veterinarian will examine the animal remains to determine the species, but Bengal said that preliminary evidence indicates that they are three cats and a small dog.

Two of the animals' remains were found under Wetzel's bed on the second floor.

Although food and water were available in parts of the house, the dead animals probably starved because they were trapped by the debris that filled the house from "ceiling to floor," Bengal said.

Some feral cats were still on the property after PSPCA entered the house. Licences and Inspections personnel were to condemn the house yesterday, Bengal said, and traps will then be set for the remaining cats.

Authorities will search the house again and expect to find more remains and live animals, Bengal said.

Besides finding the animals, law- enforcement officers discovered the nest of "a classic hoarder." Wetzel had been arrested and charged with the same animal-abuse violations five years ago. She was also arrested and charged for making terroristic threats and harassment in 1991, but those charges were later dismissed.

Wetzel was found guilty in community court on the animal-cruelty charges, but she failed to show up for a court date and a bench warrant was subsequently issued, records show.

Known around the neighborhood as the "Dog Lady," and some other names unprintable here, neighbors interviewed yesterday said that they have complained to authorities about Wetzel's behavior and her animals for years. And especially in the last few weeks.

The hot-line tipster who led officials back to Wetzel had called Tuesday to say that an animal "had escaped the front door" of Wetzel's house, said Liz Williamson, PSPCA spokeswoman.

The unspecified animal was missing hair and drenched in feces and urine, the neighbor told the hot line. Wetzel scooped up the fugitive animal and took it back inside the house, the tipster said.

Many residents recounted stories of their confrontations with Wetzel. In July, for instance, residents had a block party and Wetzel, who was preparing to leave her house in her car, was unaware of it. " 'You know I do my shopping on Saturdays,' " neighbor Peggy Chepress recalled Wetzel saying. Chepress told Wetzel that they would get the children out of her way and let the caution tape down when she returned back to the block.

Wetzel, however, drove her car through the yellow tape, scattering kids playing in the street, many neighbors said.