You Always Hurt The Ones You Love
December 3, 2008 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Some of you might know the story of Heidi Erickson, better known to most as the Beacon Hill Cat Lady. After being evicted from her Boston apartment upon the discovery of over 100 cats, some alive, more dead, in her home, Erickson soon took up residence in a Watertown apartment. The saga soon played itself out again.

The animals were seized and Erickson responded by suing the state of Massachusetts to recover possession of the cat corpses she had been keeping frozen in her refrigerator, and won. The victory spurred her on to a series of other less successful lawsuits that culminated in her being banned from litigating in the Massachusetts courts without special permission from a judge.

While many who hear of Erickson's bizarre exploits walk away understandably sympathetic to the plight of the unfortunate animals who wind up in her various abodes, others see the Erickson story as spotlighting a mental health issue that receives relatively little attention-- Compulsive animal hoarding.
posted by Law Talkin' Guy (31 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
i've been involved in investigating two hoarding cases. it is a terrible illness. so, so many victims.

thanks for the post, LTG.
posted by CitizenD at 4:07 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Frozen dead cats: the next thing on the bailout list?
posted by Iosephus at 4:08 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

There are cat ladies, and then there are cat ladies. When you find yourself actually physically hindered by the sheer quantity of feces in your domicile, you are probably mentally ill.

But that Russian lady... she has her shit together.
posted by mek at 4:17 PM on December 3, 2008 [4 favorites]

One of my cats was originally from the house of a hoarder. When the Humane Society took him in, he had ear mites and a few other health problems, and wasn't neutered. He's a good cat overall, but he has a weird habit of ignoring the "personal space" of our other cats until he gets in fights.
posted by drezdn at 4:22 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Then, of course, there are the rat ladies.
posted by Caduceus at 4:23 PM on December 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Erickson soon took up residence in a Watertown apartment. The saga soon played itself out again.

Ah, yes. The Cat Lady of Beacon Hill. Famous around these parts.

Actually, both instances of hoarding were concurrent.

Even stranger was her claim of being a breeder and "experimenting" with her cats.
"All the cats (and the one dog) have been removed to shelters. Police have also collected a variety of veterinary drugs from both locations [Beacon Hill and Watertown, MA], several of which (including a form of estrogen used on dogs) seem implicated in Erickson’s reported goal of 'perfecting' the white Persians she bred."
posted by ericb at 4:24 PM on December 3, 2008

The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium: Animal Hoarding -- What Caseworkers Need to Know.
posted by ericb at 4:26 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is depressing the fuck out of me, so I'm going to veer OT...

In my bachelor days, I had a cat but no automobile - and the supermarket was a mile and a half away. I couldn't carry large bags of cat litter that far. That left me stuck getting small bags from the convenience store a few doors down - a much worse value. So one day when I needed to rent a car for a special trip, I took advantage by driving to the supermarket and stocking up on a dozen of their biggest litter bags.

The surprised person behind the register said, "Wow, you must have a lot of cats." I deadpanned, "No, just one really big one."
posted by Joe Beese at 4:29 PM on December 3, 2008 [17 favorites]

Yikes, this is just a few blocks from my house (not_on_display can probably see her from his window). Personally, I blame Watertown. This would never happen across the street in Belmont.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:29 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

BTW -- it was ruled that she could keep two of the frozen cat corpses "as long as she keeps them frozen or embalms them" -- not all of the 60 frozen cats from her Beacon Hill apartment nor the 12 from her Watertown apartment.

Erickson makes her case to the court [video |wmv].
posted by ericb at 4:39 PM on December 3, 2008

it was ruled that she could keep two of the frozen cat corpses "as long as she keeps them frozen or embalms them"

A Solomonic judgment, indeed.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:43 PM on December 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

And to bring her story even more up-to-date...

October 23, 2008: Former Boston ‘Cat Lady’ Gets Visit from Plymouth [,MA] Health Agent
“Reports of a foul odor emanating from a Lothrop Street apartment prompted a health department inspection Monday afternoon.

Health Agent Susan Merrifield said the stench was overpowering, but she is not releasing her report or citation information until the investigation is complete. She has five days to gather information and take action.

The apartment is leased to Heidi Erickson, the notorious ‘cat lady,’ who made headlines in 2003…

Merrifield called police to accompany her to the home.

Police called fire officials to gain entry to the home.

Fire officials entered through a window and opened the apartment to Merrifield and police.

Acting Police Chief Michael Botieri said living conditions in the house were described as deplorable, with animal feces and trash strewn about.

There were several cats and a dog in the apartment, but no sign of dead or injured animals or of any crime, Botieri said.

‘It’s a health department matter,’ he said.

Merrifield would not comment on the condition of the apartment or her intended action until she had gathered police and fire reports.”
posted by ericb at 4:49 PM on December 3, 2008

At the Advantage School, co-workers claimed she wore high-cut skirts without underwear.

She wasn't all bad then.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:31 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

The cat lady of CalforniaI was 6 houses from her last cathouse you could smell it on aclear still day.
posted by pianomover at 6:17 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Marilyn (the California cat lady) used to come into the coffee shop I worked at in Novato. Nice lady, you got the feeling she had bit of money, always nice car and fashionable clothes. One of the older gentlemen who used to hang out a lot at the shop went on date with her and I asked him the next day how it went.

He took a pull on his coffee and said "She's fucking nuts."
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 6:53 PM on December 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Never going to change until we have real social services for the mentally ill. She'll probably be dead by then, with several other helpless animals. But thank god we don't live in a socialist hell-state that cares for its citizens instead of letting them live out their lives knee deep in animal corpses and excrement because they're completely off their nuts. Thank god.
posted by emjaybee at 6:59 PM on December 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Two cats maximum. For anyone. No exceptions. That is all.
posted by unSane at 7:11 PM on December 3, 2008

Also worth noting: during Mitt Romney's asinine "ride the T" stunt, he was accosted by Heidi Erickson who accused him of killing her cats.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 7:18 PM on December 3, 2008

I just remembered that growing up on Long Island in the mid-70s, my older sister briefly took ballet classes from a late-middle-aged Russian emigre in a large delapidated old house that, in retrospect, reminds me of Grey Gardens. She didn't hold a candle to the Russian lady in that video... but damn, there were at least one or two cats crawling around in every room of that huge house.

I suspect there was a very sad story in that woman's life.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:21 PM on December 3, 2008

when i was an apprentice electrician, one of the only jobs we walked off of was a guy who was a cat hoarder. this was the mid 1980's, so i'd never heard the term "animal hoarder", but that's totally what he was. no dead ones that i saw, but an overwhelming stench and entirely too many cats and cans of wet cat food and piles of dry cat food scattered around for the little beasties. we told him we couldn't work in there with the stench.

the only other place that smelled worse was an apartment with way too many people living in it - the living room stank so hard i couldn't breathe without coughing a bit at first (as i recall, there were chicken wing bones ground into the rug), but the kitchen was reasonable enough, aside from near the barrel. this was the same multifamily house where someone had taken a shit in the hallway closet. that added to the charm, i must say. but i digress.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:09 PM on December 3, 2008

Whenever I think of crazy cat ladies, I think of Ruth Knueven - Northern Virginia's 82 year old crazy cat lady that had 488 cats, 222 of them dead, spread between two houses. It was a story that slowly unfolded over a couple of days in July 2005 as the police raided her first house and then found and raided the second. Authorities were helped to the second house by Mrs. Knueven herself, who led police there by trying to hide even more cats from them. She was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge of animal cruelty in December 2005, ordered to pay $500 of a $2500 fine, and received a 360 day jail sentence (all of which was suspended). As part of her plea bargain, she had to agree to undergoing treatment for her hoarding problem.

I was back at home for summer break as this was happening, and I just remember being absolutely horrified as the number of cats they found kept rising. This cat lady's deal is much less disturbing (just due to the difference in the number of animals), but extremely distressing nonetheless. So incredibly sad.
posted by malthas at 8:24 PM on December 3, 2008

When cat lady's go good, Poezenboot
posted by The Whelk at 8:52 PM on December 3, 2008

At least she did this before hoarders learned to apply for tax status as "no-kill shelters."

Anyone know of any papers on why they hide the bodies, instead of, you know, getting rid of them? Someone in animal control told me about a hoarder who put the bodies of dead animals up in trees. That cannot be easier than sneaking them into a dumpster.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:06 PM on December 3, 2008

a hoarder who put the bodies of dead animals up in trees. That cannot be easier than sneaking them into a dumpster

Maybe they were Zoroastrian.
posted by longsleeves at 10:09 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Man, I can't imagine the smell of 100+ cats. I have two, and I swear they have evolved for the sole purpose of converting cat food into cat shit. I scoop out the cat box to get rid of the smell, and that lasts five minutes before one of them discovers the nice clean litterbox and feels compelled to try it out.
posted by greenie2600 at 10:22 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Mental illness is not an excuse for repeatedly causing animal suffering and public health issues on this scale. Jail, with treatment inside, seems a good option to me. Her freedom puts animals and people in peril.
posted by The Salaryman at 4:00 AM on December 4, 2008

lesser shrew: i think it has to do with not wanting to get rid of them. i mean, that's why they can't get rid of the live ones either. i saw a video piece on a guy who was an cat hoarder, and he was saving the bodies of the dead cats in a big freezer in his city apartment because he really wanted to bury them on his land when he bought a piece of land.

i think a great deal of hoarding - either animal or stuff - comes out of a horribly misguided and perverted hope. "i can give these animals a better life" or "i have to save all these newspapers so my brother can read them when his eyes get better"
posted by rmd1023 at 4:51 AM on December 4, 2008

My definition of "too many cats" is 2 more than I have.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:33 AM on December 4, 2008

My wife and I have two cats, and no matter how adorable the cats for adoption at Petco may be, I won't give in to the temptation and adopt another cat. My logic is simple: once the pets have numerical superiority, you become susceptible to "divide and conquer" strategies.

It is imperative to retain a tactical advantage.
posted by malocchio at 6:52 AM on December 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

Also of note on the subject is Year of the Dog, a Molly Shannon/Peter Sarsgaard/John C. Reilly/Laura Dern masterpiece on love, loss and animal hoarding.

To be honest, the beagle that inspires this whole farce is almost cute enough to cause me to hoard little warm fuzzy things.
posted by greekphilosophy at 8:33 AM on December 4, 2008

This isn't a cat-only phenomenon. There's a similar court case going on in upstate New York over the Chenango Pomeranians.
For the time being, the 76 Pomeranians and one pit bull that were seized from Fong's property are being cared for by the SPCA. The remains of the 38 dogs recovered from Williams Road have been cremated.
posted by zamboni at 12:56 PM on December 4, 2008

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