Wendy & Judith Kresge 62 caged birds living in squalor with 1 cat, other birds found dead

Stroudsburg, PA

Monroe County

December 24, 2008

  (Photo courtesy of Melissa Evanko/Pocono Record)  Police investigating the death of a morbidly obese woman found her disabled mother living in their squalid mobile home with more than 60 caged birds, a few of them dead.

Judith Kresge sought help from a family friend on Christmas Eve after getting no response to repeated calls to her daughter's bedroom, police said Wednesday. The friend found Wendy Kresge's body in her bed and called the police.

Investigators discovered deplorable conditions and no running water in the Stroud Township home and deemed it unfit for the surviving woman and the animals.

Kresge is not ambulatory and spent her time on a couch strewn with trash bags, clothing and other items, the police report said. She told police she kept a cooler with food in it nearby, although she could not find it the day they arrived. They found the bird cages filthy.

"Because of the handicapped mother, the condition of the trailer, the 60 birds, the nonfunctioning toilet, basically, we determined it to be unfit living conditions," said Lt. Brian Kimmins of the Stroud Area Regional Police.

Kresge was uncooperative, refusing to surrender the birds or leave her home after her daughter's death, officials said. A relative finally persuaded her to accept a move to an assisted living facility, while the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals charged her with animal neglect and cruelty in order to get a search warrant and remove the birds, Kimmins said.

The birds included macaws, parrots, parakeets and lovebirds, police said.

"I suspect that it was a typical hoarding case," Kimmins said.

Wendy Kresge, 45, who weighed more than 500 pounds, died of natural causes, the Monroe County coroner's office said.

The home is located in a trailer park about 80 miles north of Philadelphia. Several welfare agencies were aware of the family, but the severity of the women's problems was not apparent, Kimmins said.

"They weren't off the radar. The Office of the Aging had a case, the SPCA had a case," he said. "They always seemed to be just below the level required to take action against somebody who does not want to be assisted."

Update 1/1/09:  The SPCA believes Kresge was raising the birds in her home in the 1000 block of Ehler Street to sell them. They included four parrots, three finches, a parakeet and dozens of cockatiels and lovebirds.

''It was kind of like the bird equivalent of a puppy mill,'' said Kim Wolfe, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, based in Philadelphia.

Most of the birds, along with a cat found in the home, are now in good condition and available for adoption at the SPCA shelter at 350 E. Erie Ave. in Philadelphia, Wolfe said. Some didn't survive the trip to the city.

The mobile home -- which Kresge shared with her 73-year-old mother, Judith -- was ''extremely unsanitary'' and cluttered to the point of being a fire hazard, the SPCA said in a news release.

''The conditions inside were deplorable,'' said Stroud Area Regional police Lt. Brian Kimmins.

Police contacted animal cruelty investigators, who entered the home 2 days after Christmas. Most of the living birds were in broken, dirty cages, while others flew freely throughout the home.

The SPCA said the Kresges couldn't walk and lived in separate rooms. Kimmins said they stayed in contact using cell phones. The daughter got around the neighborhood on a scooter.

The Monroe County coroner's office said Wendy Kresge, who weighed more than 500 pounds, died as a result of a pre-existing medical condition.

Judith Kresge had last seen her daughter late on Dec. 23 and called the family friend the next day. Kimmins said the Police Department got a call from the friend around 5 p.m. Dec. 24. After attending to the Kresges, police contacted the SPCA.

Judith Kresge was uncooperative and refused to leave her home or surrender the birds, officials said. The SPCA says it is not pressing charges, although it did charge her with animal neglect and cruelty in order to get a search warrant and remove the birds.

Several welfare agencies knew about the Kresges, but the severity of the women's problems wasn't apparent, Kimmins said.  ''They weren't off the radar. The Office of Aging had a case, the SPCA had a case,'' he said. ''They always seemed to be just below the level required to take action against somebody who does not want to be assisted.''

Judith Kresge initially refused medical treatment, Kimmins said. Police got in touch with a family member, who persuaded her to see a doctor.

Kimmins said Judith Kresge is now staying at an assisted living facility.

Update 1/2/09:  Judith Kresge, was unwilling to accept assistance from local agencies, including the Area Agency on Aging.

The family's living conditions and animals were "on the radar" of local authorities, including Stroud Township officials. Agencies were in the process of trying to address the unsafe situation, Kimmins said.  "If (people) don't want to be assisted, you have to go a different route to force compliance," he said.

Neighbor Melanie Ackerman said she called animal control and other authorities at least three times in the past 18 months because she was concerned about the health of her neighbors. The smell was at its worst in the summertime, and she could see many birds in the window. Authorities checked in, but it never went further than that.

"They never got into the house to be able to help them," Ackerman said. "I wish there were a better way for animal control to do their job. I told Wendy, 'You've got to let them in,' and she said, 'No, no they're not getting my birds.'"

The Pennsylvania SPCA applied for a search warrant and brought a team of animal experts, including a veterinarian and technicians, as well as a heated trailer to the house to confiscate the birds and cat. Authorities wore respirators because of the health hazard posed by dried animal dander and feces.

The birds included parrots, parakeets, love birds and macaws. A police officer familiar with birds said some of the macaws appeared to be very valuable, according to Kimmins. The birds are available for adoption at the PSPCA in Philadelphia.

A man described as a family friend left the trailer wearing latex gloves and carrying a few freshly emptied cans of cat food. He said he was taking care of the cats inside the trailer. The PSPCA says those cats are still there because they may belong to neighbors. The cats did not belong to the Kresges but had access to the trailer because of the holes in the floor.

According to Ackerman, the women loved plants and kept a beautiful garden in the summertime. "They had very kind hearts and were sweet people. I don't know what went wrong," she said.

Ackerman wanted to avoid being disrespectful to Wendy's memory, but she felt it was important to speak up so that the community may work to find a better way to handle situations like this.  "If those birds had been taken out of there, maybe Wendy would still be alive," Ackerman said.

Reference:

The Associated Press

The Morning Call

The Pocono Record