Woman Risks Prison to Keep Three Cats

 |  Sep 15th 2010  |   0 Contributions


Pauline Habursky was photographed in her home on Sept. 13. On her lap is Kelly, one of three cats Habursky says she owns and is living with. Habursky, 82, has withdrawn a court agreement prohibiting her from owning any cats. She says she will go to court to fight the case against her. Photo by Christopher Millette

Pauline Habursky has three cats. They're quiet and inoffensive, and the 82-year-old woman is ready to go to jail to keep them.

The reason her small feline population is causing such a kerfuffle is because last year she was characterized as being a hoarder and convicted of animal cruelty.

Last November, authorities found 25 live cats inside her tiny house, and 82 dead cats wrapped in bags and stacked inside three of her freezers.

By having three cats, Habursky is violating an agreement which prohibited her from owning cats for 18 months. She and her new lawyer have withdrawn from the agreement and chosen instead to have a summary trial before a district judge on 25 counts of cruelty to animals.

Habursky said she considers going to trial the best way for her to keep cats. And by withdrawing from the agreement, she was able to regain possession of Kelly, Princess and Sarah while she awaits prosecution. She said those are the only cats she will have in her house, now or in the future.

"I want my three cats," Habursky said this week. "That's all I need is my three cats. Is that so much to ask?"

Since she was charged after the visit from animal cruelty officers on Nov. 5, Habursky said she has heard from well-wishers as far away as Austria. She said they have offered her support and raised money for her to hire her new lawyer.

One of those supporters, Linda Theuerkauf-Tew, said she believes animal cruelty officers treated Habursky unfairly and did not consider that she had taken in the cats from neighbors and strangers rather than see them euthanized at the Humane Society of Northwest Pennsylvania, which has projected it will dispose of more than 1,600 cats this year, its highest number in at least a decade.

Habursky has said that she put the 82 dead cats in her freezer only because she could not afford to cremate them. She also said she cared for the 82 cats before they died, and that she never hurt any of the animals. Habursky had labeled each bag with the cat's name and date and time it had died.

"She did let it get it out of hand," Theuerkauf-Tew said. "And she fully understands that."

She said she is convinced of Habursky's pledge that the only cats she will have in her house are those that are there now. "She understands that she can only keep these three," Theuerkauf-Tew said, "and she has to say no to the others."

But the Humane Society's executive director, Joe Grisanti, said his organization was looking out for the cats and Habursky when the society took the animals in November.

The society said the 25 live cats found in the house were infested with fleas, ear mites and intestinal parasites. One cat was missing its ears.

"The primary concern, from the Humane Society's position, is the health and safety and well-being of the animals," Grisanti said. "When you have a cat hoarding situation, the well-being of the individual goes hand-in-hand. It is very sad to see an elderly person in that kind of situation."

This is not the first time Habursky has had a run-in with humane authorities. In 2003, animal cruelty officers found 44 cats and a dog in a house where she previously resided. At that time, Habursky was not charged because she agreed to turn over the animals to the Humane Society.

The Humane Society also agreed to the settlement in the current case against Habursky.

While the District Attorney's Office kept last year's charges against her in abeyance for 540 days, Habursky agreed to get mental health counseling; to surrender to the Humane Society the 25 cats that animal cruelty officers said she had in her house in November, including relinquishing care of the three cats, Kelly, Princess and Sarah; and to pay the veterinary bills for the surrendered cats.

As part of the deal, the DA's office said it would revisit Habursky's case after the 540 days (in June 2011) and consider the possibility that she could keep a small number of cats if she abided by the conditions of the agreement.

But Habursky wanted her cats back in July, a request the DA's office declined. Habursky's lawyer argued that she had received a favorable report from a psychiatrist, was continuing her counseling and only wanted to have the three cats.

"The psychiatrist said she was fine," Jeff Connelly, her attorney, said. "She was simply overwhelmed by the number of people dropping cats off."

Connelly said Habursky's withdrawal from the agreement last week cleared the way for her to have her three cats, at least for now.

She got them last week from friends who she said had been watching them. The cats all have shots and are healthy, Habursky said as she displayed their veterinary records.

"I don't even need more cats," she said. "I've got my three -- that's enough."

If the judge convicts her, she could be fined heavily and sentenced to up to 90 days in the Erie County Prison on each of the 25 counts -- a total of 2,250 days, or six years and two months.

She could also lose ownership of her last three cats.

Pennsylvania law also allows a district judge to bar a person convicted of cruelty to animals from having any animals or limit the number of animals that person can own.

Habursky said she cannot bear further separation from her cats.

She cried during an interview as she discussed her encounters with the Humane Society. Kelly, one of the three cats, slept next to Habursky, whose five-room house is filled with photographs, paintings and figurines of cats. She calls the pets her babies.

"This is my family," said Habursky, who is childless, lives alone and whose husband died 11 years ago. "That's all I have, are my cats."

[Source: Erie Times-News]

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