James and Rita Penney

Hoarding – 97 cats  and 8 dogs seized

West Deptford, NJ

Gloucester County

June 19, 2006

(Photo courtesy of WPVI-TV) The SPCA removed 97 cats and 8 dogs from the Penney’s 800 block Harker Avenue home.  The couple were each charged with 196 counts of animal cruelty a combined 388 counts in all.

The sickly cats were taken from the flea and fly infested home.  The floors were covered with excrement and urine.  Many of the cats were feral and had to be lured from behind walls and beneath floors with baited humane traps.

The initial court appearance has been postponed until August 1st, 2006.  James and Rita, both age 68 had been scheduled to appear in municipal court on July 11th

Update 6/21/06:

45 of the cats seized were so sick and feral that the SPCA euthanized all of them. The 8 dogs are in the county animal shelter in Clayton.

The Penney's have been charged with criminal animal cruelty, which is punishable by a fine or imprisonment.

SPCA officers said they found the floors of the home to be covered in at least 5 inches of excrement and the basement was under 3 inches of water. The Penney's were ordered out of the home and went to a nearby motel.

A code enforcement inspector cited the Penney's in May, 2006 for property-maintenance code violation and for excessive odors. Those charges are pending in court.

Update 8/3/06:

The Penney's each plead guilty to 10 counts of animal cruelty at their hearing. By months end the home will be demolished. They will pay $2,500 each in fines and $5,000+ together for expenses to the Gloucester County Animal Shelter and SPCA.

They will be on probation for five year. The owners of a Harker Avenue home where nearly 100 cats were found prowling in filth and feces were also forbidden from owning any kind of animal.

Between June 20 and July 3rd, eight dogs and cats, some wandering freely in and out of the house through open windows and some hiding in walls and ceilings, were rounded up and seized by County Animal Control Officers. The cats, suffering a variety of health problems, were euthanized. The dogs were placed with breed-specific rescue organizations.

The Penneys were evacuated from their flea-infested home on June 20th after State SPCA Sgt. Jane Donoghue discovered the condition of the cats and the house. Donoghue tried for about three weeks to get the Penneys to voluntarily reduce the number of animals in the house before she went to court for a search warrant.

The interior of the home had to be torn up to get animals out of walls and floors and Township officials have recommended the building be demolished. The plea agreement is effective only if the Penneys sign a separate agreement with the Township to allow the house to be torn down. The Township has a lien against the property and its costs thus far, as well as the fines and restitution stated in the plea agreement. Payment will come from the proceeds when the land is sold. The property is in Mrs. Penney’s name and she had to officially give her permission for her husband’s fines to be paid from the money received from a sale of the land. It is estimated that the Harker Avenue property could be worth as much as $65,000. Township Administrator Gerald White stated that the Township has already spent $23,982 for extermination, house board-up and cleanup services. He expects the demolition will cost between $8,000 to $12,000. The demolition agreement is expected to be signed within two weeks, with demolition complete before September 1st.

One of the conditions of the probation is that the Penneys must let the SPCA and the County Animal Shelter know if they move out of the state. The Penneys stated they are planning to move to Maine and Sgt. Donoghue does not know if Maine SPCA Officials will be willing to help enforce the provisions of the plea agreement.


The Courier Post

Prout Inquirer

6ABC Action News, PVI-TV

BestFriends Network

The Star Ledger

The Glocuester County Times