House of 40 cats, and 1 sewage leak

September 03, 1994|By Larry Carson and Mary Gail Hare | Larry Carson and Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writers

Steve and Linda Seibert's problems didn't become unmanageable until they called Baltimore County government for help.

Now county government has to bail them out of a jam it inadvertently helped to create.

The Seiberts and their three children were having trouble enough living in a tiny, two-level rented Lansdowne townhouse next door to Gloria Wilson, a nearly destitute widow who spends what money she has on the 40 cats and two dogs who sleep in her deteriorating house while she and her grown son, Charles, sleep on the front porch.

When water containing sewage began leaking into the Seiberts' kitchen through the common wall from Mrs. Wilson's home, they called Baltimore County for help. Inspectors quickly determined RTC the water's source, noted the sewage, and called a county rental housing inspector.

Claude Profili did his job and slapped a bright red "Danger" sign on the Seiberts' home Tuesday, along with two housing code violation notices.

Then he told the dumbstruck Seiberts that they, but not Mrs. Wilson, had to immediately find another place to live.

"I can't believe this," a bewildered Mrs. Seibert said Wednesday. "It's just the idea of being forced out of my home. You know it's not right."

The Seiberts, with $500 in county social services help, found a new house to rent yesterday and were to move today.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Wilson's cause has been taken up by cat lovers in Carroll and Baltimore counties, who are trying to place the animals in adoptive homes while recruiting volunteers and donations to help clean her house, fix the roof and find the appropriate services for her.

Baltimore County officials say there are programs to help the low-income elderly with emergency repairs, but some of those who came to the widow's aid say it has been difficult to get county social services workers involved in the woman's case.

Mrs. Wilson and her supporters claim that the Seiberts have harassed the 67-year-old widow.

"I've lived here for 12 years, and they've been here a year and half. It's been a year and a half of pure hell." Mrs. Wilson said.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Wilson is due in District Court Sept. 28 on a citation from the county's environmental health agency for the odor in her house, and a county animal control officer has given her until Sept. 15 to have all of the cats licensed.

"Whatever that costs, I can't afford it," Mrs. Wilson said.

Mrs. Wilson's cat problems began six years ago, she said, when a litter was delivered on her porch. Unable to find the owner, Mrs. Wilson kept the mother cat and six kittens.

Despite her best efforts, the widow, who suffers from diabetes and heart problems, was unable to keep up with spaying or neutering.

The feline family now numbers 40 and has taken over Ms. Wilson's home.

"I just got attached to them all," Mrs. Wilson said. "They are all one family."

Each cat was named at birth, and Mrs. Wilson said they all respond to their names.

"You call them by the wrong name and they will ignore you," she said.

Each week, she uses 100 pounds of cat litter and pours about 60 pounds of cat food into a baby bathtub. "My kitties come first, and then I eat," she said.

The cats have provoked conflicts between the Seiberts and Mrs. Wilson.

Mrs. Wilson said the Seiberts have teased her and harassed her by complaining to county agencies about the smell of her animals.

The Seiberts say they encountered a more serious problem than the smell of cats after water began pouring into their house and the county told them to move out.

The three Seibert girls, ages 6, 9 and 16, were sent in tears Tuesday night to sleep at their grandparents' home nearby, but the parents stayed in the home.

Mrs. Seibert said that when the water started coming in, they complained to the county, but county authorities said Mrs. Wilson refused to let a plumbing inspector into her home.

Officials say there's not much they can do.

A state law that required Baltimore County to create a housing code for rental housing in 1988 was designed to help tenants such as the Seiberts remain safe from unhealthy conditions.

But county politicians, always wary of controversies over housing laws, never enacted a housing code for owner-occupied homes.

So, while the county has the power to order the Seiberts out of their rental home, it has no immediate power to do anything about Mrs. Wilson's home.

County Community Development Director Frank W. Welsh said the county just couldn't allow the Seiberts to live with the sewage in their home. "We're trying to protect the people's health," he said.

County Administrative Officer Merreen E. Kelly intervened to help arrange for an emergency social services relocation grant.

But that will still leave the landlord, Fred Lissau, with an empty investment property next to an unkempt house that smells of 42 animals.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Wilson's friends in the community say they and the widow are doing their best to clean and repair the house and find homes for the cats.

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