Woman who hoarded pets goes to jail

The city seized and sealed her Port Richmond house, removed 21 dogs and cats she said she had rescued from the streets, and hauled out trash piled six to eight feet high.

Yesterday, after insisting she did nothing wrong and then refusing to divulge her new address, 70-year-old convicted "animal hoarder" Virginia Wetzel was off to jail for six to 12 months.

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Virginia Wetzel, 70, owes SPCA $32,304.

"I've never hurt any animal in my life," Wetzel, a state welfare caseworker, told Municipal Judge Karen Yvette Simmons. "I have never intentionally even killed a roach."

But Simmons cited evidence from the nonjury trial in which she convicted Wetzel of 25 counts of animal cruelty: 12 flea-ridden cats, 9 dogs, and 4 decomposing, mostly skeletal, cats found Sept. 30 in Wetzel's malodorous, trash-filled Monmouth Street house.

The judge also noted Wetzel's arrest in 2004 for the same thing and the likelihood she would begin collecting animals again: "She doesn't believe she is guilty of anything."

A presentence exam showed that Wetzel is not mentally ill, Simmons said.

In addition to prison time, Simmons barred Wetzel from owning any animals for 15 years; ordered her to reimburse $32,304 to the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which took the animals and cleaned out Wetzel's house; and let the SPCA regularly inspect Wetzel's house to ensure she doesn't again bring in stray animals.

The last condition became an immediate problem when Wetzel, a diminutive woman with bowl-cut gray hair and wearing a burgundy windbreaker, refused to give her address.

Her Port Richmond house was seized by the city and is being sold to cover the costs borne by the Department of Licenses and Inspections.

"Your Honor," said Assistant District Attorney Barbara Paul, "Ms. Wetzel says she doesn't remember her address."

Simmons, who had said she would let Wetzel have 30 days to surrender and begin her prison term, looked exasperated and then ordered Wetzel taken into custody.

"Take her back until she remembers her address," Simmons told sheriff's deputies.

Defense attorney Scott P. Sigman urged probation. He called Wetzel a "good-hearted person" who does not "have a malicious bone in her entire body."

"When you get 21 animals, it's very hard to be able to provide the absolute best level of care," Sigman added.

Paul argued that Wetzel's record showed she would not be dissuaded from hoarding animals. "She didn't learn from what happened five years ago."

 


Contact staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com.