Grace Froelich says she is providing a humane service by using a Parkville house she owns as an adoption center for stray cats, but her next-door neighbors don't agree.
"It's a hell of a pile of cats over there," says William Rush, a former state delegate who lives next to the center at Putty Hill Road and Avondale Avenue.
Rush and his wife, Alvera, have been battling the center for years. They say they are all for saving felines, but they don't like the idea of an adoption center in a residential neighborhood -- especially next to them.
"There's quite a business going on there," says Alvera Rush. "They have cages built in there and people are coming and going all the time. . . . I think it depreciates the neighborhood."
The friction between the Rushes and Froelich, a Pennsylvanian who does not live in the house, prompted the Baltimore County Council recently to pass a resolution that asks a question likely to bring cat lovers and cat haters in droves.
How many cats in one house is too many?
Bill Howard, the Parkville councilman and political ally of Rush FTC who sponsored the resolution, says he doesn't have a number in mind, but thinks there should be some limit.
"I've gotten a lot of calls about this," Howard says. "It's like, 'Why are you picking on kitty cats?' But cats are the one animal there's no limit on. You can have 30 cats in a house, but only three dogs.
"I've owned cats," Howard adds. "And I've had three cats in a house, and I can tell you that three cats are less trouble than two dogs."
County zoning laws forbid residents from keeping more than three adult dogs in a house without a kennel license, but there is no restriction on cats.
The cat resolution, passed by the council in September, asks the county planning board to ponder the question and report back to the council within six months.
Martin French, a staff planner, says he is looking into the issue.
"I don't have any number in mind," French says. "No one seems to have a number in mind."
Howard has been criticized for sponsoring the measure because it came as a result of complaints from Rush, who was a state delegate from 1963 to 1982 and lost when he ran for the Maryland Senate in 1990 on a Republican ticket with Howard.
But the Rushes say they began trying to curb Froelich long before the 1990 election. The area's former councilman, Democrat William Evans, also looked into the Rushes' complaints.
According to county zoning, health and animal control officials, all of whom investigated the center, Froelich is not violating any current county laws.
The health department did cite the center for excessive odors in July 1990, but Froelich subsequently installed an air-conditioning system .
James Thompson, the county zoning enforcement supervisor, investigated a complaint by the Rushes in March 1990, but found no zoning violations.
County law forbids animal boarding houses or veterinary hospitals in residential neighborhoods. But Froelich's center falls outside both categories because it is run by a federally registered non-profit organization called Animal Rescue Inc.
Froelich, who has a 20-acre farm in New Freedom, Pa., founded (( the group in 1982 and it has its Maryland headquarters in her Parkville house.
County animal-control wardens also investigated the center but found no violations.
"Unless [the cats are] out there digging in someone's yard, or leaving unwanted deposits, there's not much we can do," said animal-control supervisor David DeGrange.
Froelich says that the cats are all well cared for and are not allowed to roam the neighborhood. The center tries to keep a low profile, she says.
"There's no sign that even one cat is in that house," says Froelich, who acknowledges that she hasn't been to the house since the end of July.
Froelich says she doesn't know how many cats are in the house because local volunteers run the center.
Janet Chapin, a volunteer, declines to say how many cats are in the house or describe the operation. She would not allow a reporter to visit the center.
"This is a private home all during the week," says Chapin. "We really don't need publicity."
Animal Rescue Inc. places advertisements in The Sun each week that say cats and kittens are available to good homes. Callers are screened, Froelich says.
Those allowed to adopt a cat or kitten are charged a $35 "donation" to cover the expenses of shots, spaying and neutering, Froelich says.
Froelich says the $35 does not cover expenses and that Animal Rescue relies on private donations to fund its efforts. However, she could not say how much money her group received in the past year.
"The accountant has all the numbers," she says.
Animal Rescue supporters have been waging a campaign to thwart the cat-limit proposal. At a recent fund-raising flea market, they asked residents to sign a form letter and mail it to their council representative.
Lorie O'Malia and her husband, Shawn, did just that.
"I don't know a lot about the whole thing," she says. "I'm just in support of not having a law that limits the number of cats in a house."
O'Malia was surprised to learn that the Parkville center is in a residential neighborhood.
"I thought the woman lived there," O'Malia says. "I wouldn't want a house with 50 cats next to me, either, but I still don't think there should be a limit on the number of cats."