By Leef Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
A Fairfax County woman who hoarded 488 cats was declared an unfit pet owner yesterday after agreeing to the terms of a civil petition that bars her from owning animals again.
After consulting outside the General District courtroom with her family, Ruth Knueven, 82, approached the bench with her son at her side.
"We will agree to the petition, your honor," Knueven's son told Judge Thomas Gallahue.
Knueven asked the judge whether she could make a statement, saying, "There's a long story to this." But Gallahue advised her that it was not a good idea because she still faces five misdemeanor charges stemming from the hundreds of cats -- 222 of them dead -- found last week at her Mount Vernon home and her daughter's Burke townhouse.
At the brief hearing, Knueven wore dark sunglasses inside the courtroom and sat flanked by her family before her case was called. Asked by Gallahue how she wanted to proceed with the petition, she told him, "I don't know what to do."
Walking back to where her husband was sitting for a quick consultation, she tried to reassure him, saying: "It's okay. It's not as bad as it looks."
Knueven's son, who was not identified by name, declined to comment after the hearing.
Knueven has been charged with two counts of failing to care for her animals as well as a charge of failing to properly dispose of cats found in her home.
She also faces a charge of obstructing justice, police said, because she tampered with traps that animal control officers set to round up the feral cats still hiding in her home. Another charge, cruelty to animals, stems from the death of one of the cats, police said.
A court date has been set for Oct. 19, at which time police plan to ask the judge to order a mental evaluation for Knueven and issue a court order allowing them to conduct periodic follow-ups to make sure more cats aren't piling up inside her home.
It was the second time since 2001 that police have taken more than 100 felines from her.
This time, on July 8, police were summoned to Knueven's home on Ludgate Drive when neighbors complained of a strong odor. According to court records, Knueven was reluctant to surrender her cats and worked with her daughter, Karen Forrest, 57, to hide them as investigators were combing the Mount Vernon home.
Police returned to the home July 11 to check the traps they had set and found them empty. What investigators did find were seven cat carriers stashed in the backyard bushes crammed with 33 cats -- one of them dead. They believed Knueven was attempting to hide the animals from police and accidentally killed one, according to court records.
Police cited Knueven's resistance to give up the animals as the reason for searching Forrest's townhouse on Lakepointe Drive on Wednesday night. Inside they found 38 adult cats, 9 kittens and 134 dead felines. Police said they have expanded their investigation to include Forrest.
Like Knueven's home, Forrest's townhouse sustained extensive damage to the floors, walls and plumbing and was largely coated in animal waste. Both homes have been declared unfit for habitation until extensive repairs are made at a cost of many thousands of dollars, officials said.
Officials said the damage appeared to have occurred over a long period, leading police to conclude that Knueven was using the Burke townhouse as a second location where she kept her growing collection of feral cats. Nearly all the cats were undomesticated and suffered from contagious respiratory problems, officials said. All but eight were euthanized.