Fairfax County authorities last night removed more than 100 dead cats from a second home owned by the family of the woman charged this week with animal cruelty when police found hundreds of cats at her Mount Vernon home.
Neighbors of the townhouse in the 9900 block of Lakepointe Drive in Burke called Fairfax animal control officials Tuesday after hearing about the cats, many of them dead, that had been found at Ruth Knueven's house on Ludgate Drive, about 18 miles to the southeast in Mount Vernon. Police and neighbors said that Knueven does not live at the Burke address but that she visits often and is a familiar face in the neighborhood.
Neighbors said authorities were denied entry to the townhouse Tuesday. About 6:30 p.m. yesterday, dozens of police and rescue workers returned with a search warrant. By the time they left, about four hours later, they had removed 51 plastic bins containing 134 dead cats from the townhouse, said police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings. Thirty-eight living kittens and nine adult cats also were recovered, she said.
Neighbors said they saw Knueven sitting in her white Toyota outside the townhouse.
No charges had been filed late last night in connection with the dead animals found at the Burke townhouse, police said.
In recent days, Knueven, 82, was charged with three misdemeanor counts stemming from her failure to care for and properly dispose of cats that were found in her Mount Vernon area home. Earlier last night, police filed charges of cruelty to animals and obstruction of justice in connection with the Mount Vernon case.
Since Saturday, animal control officers have removed 306 cats -- 87 of them dead -- from the Mount Vernon area home, which Knueven shares with her husband.
In an interview yesterday, Knueven said that she had been "overwhelmed" by the cats in her two-story, cream-brick colonial in Mount Vernon. They had taken over the garage. They were embedded in the chimney and family room furniture, multiplying until the downstairs was infested.
"I just couldn't keep up," she said. She maintained that the strays had been sustained by a neighbor who left cat food in his garage to feed his own cat.
The family has been ordered out of the Mount Vernon house until repairs are made. Officials said that rooms occupied by the cats were covered with cat waste and that the kitchen cabinets and plumbing were damaged by the animals.
Knueven said the blame was hers, calling the situation "my problem."
Looking back, Knueven said her involvement with stray cats began slowly as she plucked litters of kittens from the street. Many of them had been killed, she said, explaining that she put their bodies into plastic containers in her garage. She said she meant to dispose of them but never got around to it.
"I know I'm the villain," she said, her voice full of despair. "But if they're saying I'm cruel to animals, that's just not right. . . . They're dear cats. I love them."
Neighbors complained to police in August 2001 about odors in their prosperous neighborhood near George Washington's Mount Vernon plantation. At the time, police found more than 120 cats, many of them Siamese. All but five were removed.
But Knueven said her cat population continued to grow as she continued to collect homeless animals. She confined them to the family room, kitchen and garage. She fed them expensive, name-brand food, and they went about having litters.
In September 2002, neighbors lodged another complaint about odors, this time with the county Health Department. Agency officials said that Knueven did extensive renovation and cleaned up waste and that in mid-November the case was closed. But it was not the end of the story.
Knueven said that over the years, she had taken cats to the local animal shelter, but the number continued to grow. "It mushroomed," she said.
A "cat collector" is generally considered a person who accumulates cats without the space, resources or ability to care for them properly. John Yetman, chairman of the county's Hoarding Task Force, said trouble typically begins when people don't realize that their collections have expanded beyond their control.
"There's a point in time when their reason and decision-making alter and they start making bad choices," Yetman said.
Fairfax police said there are no hard-and-fast rules on how many cats a person can own.
"There's no such thing as too many cats," said Officer Richard Henry. "But what [officials] look for are unsanitary conditions, and often they're alerted to the problem by a lack of a rabies certificate," which carries a criminal charge.
Before last night's discovery, Knueven was caught putting 32 cats, which had eluded the county's traps at the Mount Vernon house, into travel carriers, police said. Police said she was trying to sneak the animals out of the house; Knueven said she was trying to avoid a repeat of the trauma caused when animal control officers rounded up the vast majority Friday.
Police said only eight of 219 live cats they recovered in the Mount Vernon area house were spared euthanasia. They said the rest were feral and sick and would have threatened the health of other animals at the animal shelter.