As Cats Died - Her Kindness Turned To Panic
By: Kevin C. Dilworth - Newark Star Ledger, NJ
East Orange woman apologizes for keeping 200 carcasses - Marlene Kess admits that her love for abandoned, sick and dying cats got a bit out of hand.
"It was really my mistake," said Kess, of East Orange as workers removed about 21 plastic trash bags filled with the bodies of more than 200 cats from her property.
"I really didn't know what to do. I apologize to the community and to my neighbours," said Kess.
Kess is the founder and executive director of KittyKind Inc. in Manhattan, New York. Calls to the agency were not returned.
KittyKind's website describes it as a nonprofit, no-kill, all-volunteer cat rescue and adoption group.
"All of us at KittyKind have opened our hearts and homes - and emptied our pockets - to save thousands of cats from neglect or abuse," the website says. "Every cat we rescue is given food, shelter, medical care, a safe place to lay his or her head and most importantly of all, a reason to purr."
Kess said she was doing just that - opening her home to hundreds of sick and neglected cats to nurse them back to health. In addition to the dead cats, authorities found at least 38 cats living inside Kess' State Street house.
"People bring me cats on death's door. I take them in to care for them," she said.
But as the cats began to die, Kess said, she became overwhelmed. She said she asked around about what to do, but no one seemed to know. Instead of disposing of the cats legally, she began to pack them in bags.
"I just didn't deal with it, and I'm suffering the consequences of it now," she said. "It was very, very wrong on my part, and I know that."
The New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has slapped Kess with 38 criminal and civil complaints, all for failure to provide proper shelter for the felines she so far has been allowed to keep, said Matt Stanton, a spokesman for the agency in New Brunswick.
Stanton said the SPCA's investigation into the death of the cats is "ongoing."
"Unfortunately, a number of them died three to four weeks ago, and they were severely decomposed and covered by maggots," Stanton said.
If Kess is found guilty of the SPCA complaints, she faces a maximum six months in jail and a $1,000 fine on each of the 38 charges, Stanton said.
All of the complaints are answerable in East Orange Municipal Court. Kess also was hit with three municipal summonses for bringing diseased animals into the city without notifying health officials and for creating a public nuisance because of the odors and unsanitary conditions of her property.
The stench of the decaying cats has permeated the neighbourhood for months.
Kess' property abuts the rear parking lots of the East Orange Board of Education headquarters and the East Orange Community Charter School.
Joyce Brodie, the executive secretary of the school board, said everyone who parked in the rear lot had been smelling foul odors for quite some time.
A woman security guard at the school district's headquarters finally called up city health officials to investigate.
After the discovery of the dead cats, city officials moved quickly to remove the bags.
City health and sanitation officials, as well as private contractors hired by the city have removing the bags.
"It was one of the worst things I've smelled since I've been working for the city," said John Miles, one of several city sanitation workers lifting the bags into a front-end loader.
The removal of the bags took less than a half-hour. The bags were taken away in a Roselle Disposal 10-yard container to the Essex County incinerator and transfer station in Newark.
East Orange spokesman Darryl Jeffries said it cost about $500 to get the property quickly cleaned up.
"The city is bearing the cost up front," Jeffries said, "but she's (Kess) going to ultimately bear the brunt of it."
Kess said all the cats died of natural causes, and there are still 38 healthy cats living in her three-story, wood-frame home. She also said the media attention she was getting now was misguided.
"It's very interesting that people care more about these cats after they've died," Kess said. "People should be focusing on the causes that care for sick and aging animals."
Moggies comment: Marlene Kess's actions were at the worst misguided, she is not guilty and should not go to court. I would like to know how many dead cats and dogs are sent to Rendering centers by SPCA centers all over America? Maybe we should be taking the SPCA to court instead!
I disagree with them saying at the worst she was misguided. At the worst, she was everwhelmed and hastened the deaths of ill cats by taking on more than she could handle. At the best, she was misguided!-Becky aka Beckiboo