Cat shelter busted, 260 felines removed

One of the more than 300 cats which the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA) workers rescued from a house located on the 1600 block of Filmore St. March 26, 2014. ( CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer )
One of the more than 300 cats which the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA) workers rescued from a house located on the 1600 block of Filmore St. March 26, 2014. ( CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer )
Posted: March 28, 2014

PHILADELPHIA 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 nonprofit out of two adjoining rowhouses, 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 nonprofit that, according to its website, purports to "do the work the PSPCA should be doing."

Jacobson, listed in tax returns as the nonprofit'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 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 has 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 had 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 news release, PSPCA officials said that 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, 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.


awhelan@phillynews.com

215-854-2961

@aubreyjwhelan

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