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187 Cats Too Many

Neighbors in Riverwood relieved by removal of cats from home.

Neighbors in Riverwood are hoping the bad smell in their neighborhood will start to go away now that animal control officers have removed 187 cats from Ruth Knueven’s house in Mount Vernon.

Officers were called to Knueven’s house on Ludgate Drive last week after someone reported a foul odor coming from the house. Officers found Knueven living inside with 187 cats. Officers said the dead bodies of 86 more cats had been left in trash bins outside.

Knueven, who is 82 years old, signed her cats over to the animal control officers who transported them to the animal shelter. Knueven was issued two summonses for failure of owner to care for animals, one summons for failure to dispose of dead animals properly and a petition for unfit owner.

She and her family had to vacate the premises after the health department declared the house unfit for human habitation because of its poor condition which included cat feces and urine throughout the house. The Department of Family Services helped the family find temporary housing.

“A lot of neighbors have complained,” said Misty Klapper, who has lived down the street from the Knueven’s for the past five years. “When the wind would blow, or when I walked by, I could smell it.”

WHILE ANIMAL CONTROL has removed cats from the house before, the problem persisted. Klapper said that she heard that an air conditioning company had been called to the home to fix the air conditioning and found it wasn’t working because there were cats in the ductwork.

During the time that Klapper has lived in the Riverwood, she said that she only spoke to Knueven about three times. One of those times was when Klapper’s dog chased one of Knueven’s cats up a tree. Klapper went over to apologize, but Knueven said it wasn’t her cat.

“She kept denying that the cats belonged to her,” Klapper said.

Since most of the cats were kept inside, the smell was the biggest indicator. One of the cats, however, did attack a dog, and Klapper and her neighbors worried about the spread of disease, especially feline leukemia and feline AIDS. Prior to the removal of the animals, Klapper started keeping her dog in because she was afraid that he would be attacked.

WHILE MOST of the cats have been removed, officers still need to collect several cats that remain in the walls and chimney and outside. Officer Richard Henry, public information officer with Fairfax County Police Animal Division, said that they set traps both inside and outside the home. Another 30 or so cats have been recovered since the initial sweep. Henry said that Knueven had returned home earlier in the week and was going to take some of the cats with her, but then she decided to turn them over to the authorities.

“This is going to be an ongoing situation,” Henry said. “These are not house cats, they are feral.”

The Knuevens will be allowed to return after the house has been cleaned; Klapper is worried that the problem will start all over again.

Henry said that they don’t want the problem to reoccur and expects that the various members of the Fairfax County Hoarding Task Force will work together to get Knuevens the services they need.

The Hoarding Task Force was formed in 1998 and combines the resources of county agencies to provide a coordinated response to residential hoarding when it threatens life, safety and property. Those members include the Health Department; Fire & Rescue Department; Department of Family Services; Police Department Animal Service Division; Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board; Office of the County Attorney; Department of Housing and Community Development; Department of Public Works and Environmental Services; and the Sheriff’s Office.