PSPCA removes 260 cats from Frankford home

One of the more than 260 cats rescued by workers from the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at a house in East Frankford Wednesday, March 26, 2014. Neighbors say the woman who ran the small nonprofit animal-rescue shelter on the site always seemed willing to take more. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
One of the more than 260 cats rescued by workers from the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at a house in East Frankford Wednesday, March 26, 2014. Neighbors say the woman who ran the small nonprofit animal-rescue shelter on the site always seemed willing to take more. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Posted: March 28, 2014

LOOKING BACK on it, Lanie Jacobson of Frankford isn't sure what drew her to felines and their finicky ways, how one tabby became two or how two became 200, but she just went with it.

Jacobson, according to a sign on a fence at one of her two side-by-side Fillmore Street rowhouses, became a "crazy cat lady."

"No way, that's not an insult, fella," Jacobson, 64, said yesterday in a telephone interview from her home. "It's not an insult at all. Every cat is perfect."

Jacobson runs Animals in Crisis, a nonprofit organization that adopts out cats and, as its website says, hopes to solve feline "abuse, abandonment, and overpopulation" in Philadelphia.

Until recently, the group had workers and a wealthy benefactor who helped pay for necessities, such as a $50,000 yearly veterinary bill. The benefactor bailed recently, and so did Jacobson's legs, she said, and after the workers left she was left to care for close to 300 cats.

Jacobson said she reached out to the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for help caring for the cats. Instead, she sat in her house for hours yesterday fuming as PSPCA workers carted them off in crates.

"I'm pissed that it got so out of control," she said. "But this is bulls---."

A PSPCA spokeswoman said the organization reached out to Jacobson first, and had been trying for several weeks to get her to surrender the cats.

"At first she was cooperative and surrendered some," spokeswoman Sarah Eremus said. "But conditions there grew worse and she stopped cooperating, so we went today with a warrant to remove the rest."

No charges were filed. Jacobson said she doesn't have a lawyer because she "doesn't need one."

"I'm not going to stop doing what I'm doing," she vowed.

A noticeable odor emanated from the seemingly well-kept rowhouses yesterday afternoon every time a PSPCA officer opened the door with another cat in tow.

"We haven't even made a dent," one officer said.

Neighbors on Fillmore Street said the odor was even worse in the summer. Some said they had asked Jacobson for cat food and it always came with a lecture.

"She's kind of mean," said neighbor Robin Gordon, 49.

Jacobson described herself as an "old, white Jewish lady" who moved to Philadelphia from New York decades ago. She doesn't mind being called "mean" either, she said, because she's sick of people having pets they can't care for or bother to spay and neuter.

"The cat problem in this damn city is an epidemic," she said.

The PSPCA said the cats would be taken to its headquarters on Erie Avenue near B Street in North Philadelphia. After veterinary exams and treatment, the agency will seek legal custody and then try to adopt them out.

Animals in Crisis adopted out cats and kittens, too, Jacobson said, but too many were coming in and not enough going out.

"Right now, the situation is not good. This never should have happened," she said. "But you can ask anybody, even the SPCA, and they'll tell you: 'Nobody did it better than Lanie,' " she said.

PSPCA CEO Jerry Buckley, in a statement, called Jacobson "a woman who wanted to help animals but got in over her head and couldn't provide the care this number of cats requires."

As officers in gas masks continued to load crates into vans yesterday afternoon, a cat named Emily Elizabeth rested on a sunny stoop across the street, occasionally opening an eye to survey the scene.

"We couldn't live in a city environment without cats," Jacobson said. "We'd be overrun by rodents."


On Twitter: @JasonNark

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