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Cat Defender

Exposing the Lies and Crimes of Bird Advocates, Wildlife Biologists, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, PETA, the Humane Society of the United States, Exterminators, Vivisectors, the Scientific Community, Fur Traffickers, Cloners, Breeders, Designer Pet Purveyors, Hoarders, Motorists, the United States Military, and Other Ailurophobes

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Famed Manhattan Cat Hoarder Marlene Kess Gets Off with a Fine and Community Service

It was a strange ending to a bizarre case.

On March 15th, Superior Court Judge Nancy Sivilli of Essex County, New Jersey voided famed cat hoarder Marlene Kess's (See photo above) twenty-one-day jail term and reduced the fine levied against her from $14,000 to $12,599. She was also required to perform 1,140 days of community service.

Slap-on-the-wrists fines and a lack of time behind bars are certainly nothing out of the ordinary for cat abusers and killers, but Sivilli's ruling that Kess must fulfill her community service requirement at either the SPCA or an animal control agency is, to say the least, odd. This is especially true in light of the fact that Sivilli has banned her not only from housing any more animals but also ordered her to surrender her pets until she completes her community service, some thirty-eight months from now.

The case began on May 20, 2005 when Kess was arrested after the bodies of more than two-hundred cats were found stuffed into black plastic trash bags at her residence on State Street in East Orange. Since autopsies were not performed on the animals, it not known what killed them.

An additional forty-eight cats that were found alive inside her house were later exterminated by animal control allegedly because they were ill. (See Cat Defender post of May 26, 2005 entitled "Cat Hoarder Masquerading as Cat Savior Kills More Than 200 Cats.")

From the outset the case attracted a considerable amount of interest from both cat lovers and the media because Kess was the founder of a popular no-kill shelter in Manhattan known as KittyKind. (See logo below.) Operating out of a Petco store in Union Square, it found homes for many cats and was praised by both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York Daily News.

The belated discovery of what was going on at her East Orange residence, quite understandably, perplexed and shocked many of her supporters. For her part, Kess maintained from the start that she had been trying to save as many cats as possible and just got in over her head.

She was originally convicted in East Orange Municipal Court in August of 2005 of thirty-eight counts of animal cruelty and for violating three municipal ordinances. She appealed and her sentence was reduced by Sivilli.

Although Sivilli called the treatment of the cats "horrendous and inhumane," she voiced more concern for children attending day-care next door to Kess's house than she did for the dead animals. (See Newark's Star Ledger, March 15, 2007, "Judge Tosses Jail Term for East Orange 'Cat Lady'.")

Sivilli's ruling is reminiscent of the paltry $500 fine that General District Court Judge Donald P. McDonough slapped on Ruth Knueven (See photo below) of Mount Vernon, Virginia in a similar cat hoarding case. (See Cat Defender posts of July 21, 2005 and December 23, 2005 entitled, respectively, "Northern Virginia Woman Caught Hoarding 575 Cats" and "Virginia Cat Hoarder Who Killed 221 Cats and Kept Another 354 in Abominable Conditions Gets Off With $500 Fine.")

Courts everywhere continue to place an extremely low value on the lives of both cats and dogs and this was demonstrated writ large recently when Hertford County Criminal Superior Court Judge Cy Grant allowed PETA to get away with killing dozens of cats and dogs. (See Cat Defender posts of January 29, 2007 and February 9, 2007 entitled, respectively, "PETA's Long History of Killing Cats and Dogs Is Finally Exposed in North Carolina Courtroom" and "Verdict in PETA Trial: Littering Is a Crime but Not the Mass Slaughter of Innocent Cats and Dogs.")

The Marlene Kess case is not an isolated incident. Cat hoarding has reached epidemic proportions in the United States with at least one new case being reported each week by the media. Quite naturally, the proliferation of such cases has sparked considerable debate concerning the motivations of the offending parties.

Some people accept Kess's explanation that she is a cat lover who simply tried to do too much and got into trouble. Others, such as Gary J. Patronek of Tufts, believe that cat hoarders are mentally deranged individuals who abuse cats in order to satisfy some need inside of themselves.

Without being personally acquainted with the individuals involved, it is difficult to say exactly what motivates them. Although like negligent parents they may claim that they love cats, their brand of love is the wrong kind. It is simply impossible for a large number of felines to survive for very long in a cramped house that is caked with urine and feces and where inbreeding is endemic.

That does not mean that all cat hoarders are necessarily bad people; rather, it demonstrates that they lack the bon sens to know when to stop taking in more cats than they can provide with a wholesome environment. Confronted with the fact that one-hundred per cent of all feral cats taken to shelters are killed upon arrival and that the kill-rate for strays and domestics is around eighty-five per cent, many hoarders no doubt feel that they have no other option than to collect cats.

The number one priority for all cat and dog advocacy groups should be the abolition of pet euthanasia. Not only would this save tens of millions of lives each year but it would deprive hoarders of their raison d'etre. Hoarding would then simply be treated as a crime instead of a psychoanalyst's puzzle.

As for Marlene Kess, she has since moved back to New York City but it is not known if she is affiliated in any way with KittyKind; she is certainly not mentioned anywhere on its website. As far as it is known, the shelter is still open for business as usual at its original Union Square location.

There certainly is not any reason for KittyKind to be padlocked just because of Kess's crimes, but the city needs to do a much better job of monitoring conditions at all animal shelters and stores that traffic in live animals.

Photos: GT Expressen, Goeteborg (Marlene Kess), Animal Forum (KittyKind's logo), and NBC-4, Washington (Ruth Knueven).