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Can This House Be Saved?

Experts weigh in on restoration of cat-hoarding site.

The garage door at 9302 Ludgate Drive remains ajar. Trash cans sit next to bags of cat litter and animal carriers. So far, there does not seem to be any attempt to start making the Knueven residence habitable again. The home was declared unfit for human habitation by the health department last week after they discovered almost 300 live cats and almost a hundred carcasses; even more were found at the daughter’s home in Burke.

It is unclear at this point how long it will take to restore the home and how much it will cost.

“It could be as much as $20,000,” said Bart Boucher, Boucher Building Corporation, assuming the owners do the bare minimum to make it habitable, “If you were trying to sell the house, it would be a lot more. Somebody could spend an enormous amount of money to get rid of the smell.”

Boucher purchased a home once that had about a dozen cats living in it. He didn’t think that they would ever get the smell out and tore the house down.

Rick Genuario, Genuario Companies, said, “There is most likely damage to the carpet and hardwood floors. They will probably have to be removed depending on the degree of damage.”

“It’s hard to get the urine smell out of the floor,” he said.

Genuario said that some of the drywall and insulation in the walls will probably have to be removed. If the cats got into the attic, all the blown insulation would need to be removed and replaced. The duct work might not have to be replaced, but would have to be cleaned and fumigated. Plumbing will have to be snaked, flushed and sterilized to remove cat hairs and fecal matter.

Genuario said that the kitchen cabinets, appliances and flooring would probably have to be removed.

“With the cost of new construction, it’s probably worthwhile to do repairs,” he said.

“There are companies that do this,” said John Yetman, Fairfax County environmental health specialist and chairman of the county's Hoarding Task Force. “It is still sound, structurally. There are a lot of things on the inside that need to be removed — most of flooring, down to the joints and drywall, at least the bottom four feet.”

He understands that due to lack of maintenance the kitchen will need to be replaced.

“Work like this is not uncommon, but the reason the restoration has to be done in this case is unique.”

Yetman said that Fairfax County’s Department of Financial Resources has a home improvement loan program that provides money on a sliding scale interest rate. The Knuevens have already been given an application for that program.

IN THE MEANTIME, neighbors are wondering why more wasn't done before this time.

“We’ve been trying to resolve this problem for a long time,” said Mary Lou McEwan, whose husband, John McEwan, contacted an official from animal control in July 2002. This was after police removed 120 cats the year before. McEwan said that he met with an animal control official — he could not recall the name — in Fair Lakes and was told that the situation would be taken care of.

“They said that they were on top of it and that I was not the first person [to complain],” McEwan said. “I got busy and didn’t micromanage the situation.”

He corroborated what other neighbors said — that there were only three or four cats outside the home.

"I didn't think it was that big of a problem, but one of our neighbors had asked me to call," McEwan said. "She could smell it and thought it was a problem."

Peg Baldwin, another neighbor, said that Knueven was always hidden behind the bush or the car. She did, however, see her enticing a neighbor’s cats. And she thought it was odd that when she was talking to Knueven one day about something totally unrelated to cats, that Knueven said out of the blue, “Those aren’t my cats.”

Yetman said that he had never heard about the situation until animal control called the Hoarding Task Force last week to come in and inspect the property. When the initial call was made in 2001, animal control was not part of the Hoarding Task Force. Yetman said that Knueven and her husband and daughter will be allowed to return to make repairs, meet with contractors and meet with officials. He said that they are not responsible for monitoring her when she returns to the house.

BALDWIN AGREES that it would be unrealistic to monitor Knueven, but said that she hopes the county will respond more quickly if neighbors call in the future. Knueven agreed this week to a petition that she would not own animals again.

When asked whether or not that was possible, Yetman said, “It depends on what got her started. We do have repeat offenders, people who start over again. They may be fine for years, but then they will starts to falter.”

Responding to news coverage, Lindsay Pollard-Post, of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), wrote, “We can help prevent hoarding by spaying and neutering our animals and adopting animals from shelters, rather than buying from breeders or pet stores." For information on low-cost sterilization programs, call 1-800-248-SPAY. To learn other ways you can help animals, please visit HelpingAnimals.com.