Ex-renter sought in cat hoarding at N. Philly rowhouse

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Derrick Schlitter (left) and another PSPCA officer leave the rowhouse where cats were found.

Two upstairs windows in a rowhouse where a man was hoarding sick and dead cats were briefly open last night, venting the smell of cat feces and urine along 12th Street near Jefferson in North Philadelphia.

The man, who had been renting a room in the house, will likely face animal-cruelty charges after 29 cats - 17 of which were dead - were removed from his quarters.

Officials said the man, who was in his 30s and had not been located as of last night, had been renting the room for about six years before the landlord evicted him about a month ago.

The landlord eventually noticed a smell wafting from the room after the renter was put out, and called the Pennsylvania SPCA.

When investigators entered the room yesterday, they found cat feces and urine along with a few of his personal items, and a small refrigerator and freezer where he had stored the 17 carcasses, Wendy Marano, PSPCA spokeswoman, said.

"The small room and conditions these cats were living in was unbelievable," said George Bengal, director of Humane Law Enforcement for the Pennsylvania SPCA. "This is definitely one of the more bizarre cases we've seen."

The boarder had been back to the house periodically since he was evicted. However, the landlord and officials are unsure of where the man lives now and said he may be homeless.

A preliminary screening of the cats showed some had eye infections and fleas and were losing hair.

The 12 surviving cats, all female, are in the custody of the PSPCA, Marano said.

The sick cats are likely to be rehabilitated, spayed and could eventually be adoptable after further evaluation.

Before evicting the boarder, the landlord was unaware of the cats in his bedroom, said Derrick Schlitter, a Humane Society police officer.

"Often hoarders are pretty good about hiding it," Marano said, adding that this case was unusual since animal hoarders are typically middle-aged women.

"It's a little unusual that it's a young, single male," she said, adding that there are typically about 12 high-profile cases of animal hoarding in Pennsylvania each year.

After animal hoarders are caught and penalized, there is a high rate of repeat hoarding if they do not seek psychological help, Marano said.

In extreme cases, animal hoarders under court orders against owning pets move to another jurisdiction to begin hoarding again, she said.