Northeast Times

PSPCA continues to search for cats in Bustleton home

A Bustleton home so in­fes­ted with ver­min that it was de­clared un­fit for hu­man hab­it­a­tion likely won’t be de­mol­ished by the city even though the De­part­ment of Li­censes and In­spec­tions also pos­ted it as struc­tur­ally un­safe.

However, if by Ju­ly 21, own­er Richard G. Garo­falo does not clear the place of rats, mice, fleas and an­im­al fe­ces, the city will do it and bill him for the work, said L&I spokes­wo­man Re­becca Swan­son.

“And it’s ex­pens­ive,” she said.

A 74-year-old man was found in­side the house on the 9100 block of Bickley St. on Ju­ly 7 and taken to Naz­areth Hos­pit­al, ac­cord­ing to the Fire De­part­ment. Prop­erty re­cords identi­fy Garo­falo as the own­er and, a neigh­bor said it was Garo­falo who was res­cued.

PSPCA spokes­wo­man Wendy Marano last week said four dead cats and three live ones were taken from the house on Ju­ly 7. She said PSPCA work­ers saw rats, mice, spiders, bats and fleas in a struc­ture that had a fall­ing-in roof as well as col­lapsing ceil­ing and walls. She said the own­er had fallen and called re­l­at­ives for help. When they couldn’t get in the house on Ju­ly 7, they called au­thor­it­ies, and fire­fight­ers and res­cue work­ers got in and found the man.

They also found the cats and a house filled with trash and ver­min. The PSPCA’s work­ers re­moved four dead cats and three live ones, but be­lieved oth­ers were hid­ing in the walls.

Two bright or­ange L&I no­tices last week were put on the one-story home’s front door, but can scarcely be seen through the over­grown grass and weeds and un­trimmed trees. One no­tice states the build­ing is un­safe be­cause of struc­tur­al prob­lems; the oth­er states it is un­fit for hab­it­a­tion be­cause of ver­min in­fest­a­tion.

The build­ing is un­safe, said Swan­son, but it is not “im­min­ently dan­ger­ous,” and isn’t go­ing to be de­mol­ished by the city un­less it be­comes so.

Swan­son said an L&I in­spect­or will re­turn to the prop­erty in early Au­gust to see if re­pairs have been made or if the build­ing had been de­mol­ished. Since per­mits would be re­quired, L&I would know if any work is done or sched­uled.

“We al­ways have to give the own­er a chance to fix it him­self,” she said.

But, if that doesn’t hap­pen, the case will be sent to court with the hope the court will com­pel the own­er to im­prove the prop­erty, Swan­son said.

Al­though the own­er has 30 days to re­pair or de­mol­ish the prop­erty, he was giv­en just 10 days — from Ju­ly 11 — to clean the ver­min and filth.

The city has a con­tract­or who will do the work if it isn’t done by the own­er.

“It’s pretty routine,” Swan­son said.

City work­ers have been to the prop­erty at least four times since 2005 to clean up trash and whack down weeds and grass, Swan­son said. The city has about $2,000 in li­ens on the prop­erty for this work, she said, al­though a $618.48 bill for work done in Decem­ber had been paid.

The cleanups were all on the out­side of the prop­erty. The in­side of the house was night­mar­ish.

Pho­tos taken by PSPCA work­ers who entered the house on Ju­ly 7 show trash, huge spider webs and stacks of plastic trays filled with an­im­al waste. 

“There was not one place that wasn’t covered with cat fe­ces,” Marano said. “And he was liv­ing there!”

Lis­ter­ine was sprayed in­side the house to keep bats away.

Marano said the PSPCA’s work­ers con­tin­ued to re­turn to the home last week. On Ju­ly 8, they got an­oth­er cat out of the house. 

Neigh­bor Emma Schmidt, who has lived across the street for 25 years, said she had no idea so many cats were in the house. She also said the prop­erty had been well-kept ex­cept for the past sev­er­al years.

Neigh­bors nev­er called the city’s 311 sys­tem to re­port any prob­lems, Swan­son said. It was the Com­munity Life Im­prove­ment Pro­gram that had mowed and re­moved trash.

An at­tempt to reach Garo­falo was un­suc­cess­ful. On Ju­ly 11, Naz­areth Hos­pit­al’s op­er­at­or said she had no list­ing for Garo­falo. A hos­pit­al spokes­wo­man said fed­er­al reg­u­la­tions bar her from even con­firm­ing a per­son is a pa­tient. 

IT HAP­PENS ALL OVER

“An­im­al hoard­ing cases,” are not rare in Phil­adelphia, Marano said. The PSPCA sees one a month on av­er­age, she said, but ad­ded that the agency had seen six in the month be­fore its work­ers were on Bickley Street.

“In the sum­mer, we see more,” she said. “It’s the smell. The in­sects, the ver­min are more af­fected by the heat, and people no­tice — es­pe­cially in row houses or semi-at­tached houses.”

This hap­pens all over the city, she said, and on every so­cial and eco­nom­ic level.

However, the cases tend to have some sim­il­ar­it­ies, she said.

Most of­ten the people in­volved are eld­erly and usu­ally wo­men. The an­im­als most fre­quently are cats, al­though not ex­clus­ively. There was a case in South Philly a few years ago in which a wo­man had 103 chi­hua­huas in her home, Marano said.

But all of that is on the in­side. The clue to neigh­bors is if the prop­erty is go­ing to seed or de­teri­or­at­ing. 

“People don’t tend to be im­macu­late on the out­side and messy in­side,” she said.

Even if neigh­bors be­come con­cerned, “They don’t know who to call,” Marano said.

Neigh­bors should call 311 when they see a prop­erty in such a de­teri­or­at­ing con­di­tion, Swan­son said.

“Please call 311. We can’t be every­where,” she said.

In cases of oc­cu­pied homes, Swan­son said, L&I refers them to so­cial ser­vice agen­cies. Marano said an­im­al hoard­ing cases of­ten in­volve people who don’t keep in con­tact with fam­ily or friends or don’t have many.

“It gets to the whole safety net is­sue,” she said. “It’s a uni­ver­sal prob­lem that no one has really solved yet.” ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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