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Friday, Jul 8, 2005

County: Alexandria City

Disposition: Convicted

Defendant/Suspect: Ruth Knueven

Case Updates: 5 update(s) available

Animal control officers removed 273 animals, 86 of them dead, on July 8 after neighbors complained vehemently of odors. Cats were still being seized from the house on July 11, extracted from the walls and from deep within the brick chimney. Traps were set.

The house was condemned by officials. Ruth Knueven, 82, and her husband and daughter were ordered to leave.

On July 10, police said Knueven returned to the house and ripped down the condemnation order. Animal-control officers found her inside trying to smuggle an additional 30 cats out of the home, bringing the total to 303. The animals were confiscated, and more traps were set.

Police said that nearly all the animals collected from the two homes were feral, were unfit for adoption at shelters and will be euthanized.

Residents in Knueven's neighborhood said that Knueven spent years taking in strays, which multiplied inside her home and caused years of headaches for neighbors. They say she tried, unsuccessfully, to mask the odor with incense, burning it in her back yard.

As early as August 2001, officials were aware that there was a problem when complaints prompted officers to remove 100 cats from the Knueven home. At the time, police did not release Knueven's name.

Police had allowed Knueven to keep five cats. But neighbors said the feline population continued to grow.

Police said they found dozens of dead cats stuffed in plastic bins. Although some neighbors said the live cats were kept inside the house, one neighbor recalled seeing as many as 20 on the front lawn when police arrived to investigate complaints.

Officials have said Knueven, her husband and daughter can return to the house when order is restored. She was issued two criminal summonses for failure of owner to care for animals and one summons for failure to dispose of dead animals properly. A civil petition charging her as an unfit owner was also issued.


Case Updates

The 83-year-old woman arrested after hundreds of cats were found in two Fairfax County homes pleaded guilty today to a charge of animal cruelty.

Several other charges were dropped by prosecutors after Ruth Knueven and her attorney agreed she would continue to seek help for her obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The judge fined her $2,500, but suspended $2,000. He also gave her a 360-day suspended jail sentence. Knueven will be on probation for one year, must seek further treatment -- and can't own any animals.

Her lawyer calls it a sad situation all around, saying her good intentions to help stray animals got out of hand.

Police arrested Knueven in July when they say she had 270 cats in her Mount Vernon home. A few days later, 50 more cats -- and over 100 dead ones -- turned up in her family's Burke home.
Source: WTOP - Dec 14, 2005
Update posted on Dec 14, 2005 - 11:43AM 
Eighty-two-year-old Ruth Knueven told the court she'd hire her own attorney prior to her next scheduled appearance December 14th. Knueven faces five misdemeanor charges including two that can carry jail time. A prosecutor says the state would leave any possible sentence up to a judge, noting the woman's age.

Charges against Knueven include cruelty to animals and obstructing justice. She was first arrested July eighth for allegedly keeping more than 270 cats in a Mount Vernon home. Later that week, she was arrested again after police found nearly 200 more cats in a Burke home owned by her family.
Source: WAVY - Oct 19, 2005
Update posted on Oct 21, 2005 - 8:24AM 
A Fairfax County woman hoarding 488 cats was declared an unfit pet owner today after agreeing to the terms of a civil petition that bars her from owning animals again. After consulting outside the General District courtroom with her family, Ruth Knueven, 82, approached the bench with her son at her side.

"We will agree to the petition, your honor," Knueven's son told Judge Thomas Gallahue.

Knueven asked the judge if she could make a statement, explaining "there's a long story to this" but Gallahue advised that it was not a good idea because she still faces five misdemeanor charges stemming from the many hundreds of cats -- 222 of them dead -- she was found keeping last week at her Mount Vernon home and her daughter's Burke townhouse.

At the brief hearing, Knueven wore dark sunglasses inside the courtroom and sat flanked by her family before her case was called. Asked by Gallahue how she wanted to proceed with the petition she told him, "I don't know what to do."

Walking back to where her husband was sitting for a quick consultation she tried to reassure him saying, "It's okay. It's not as bad as it looks."

Knueven's son, who was not identified by name, declined to comment after the hearing.

Knueven has been charged with two counts of failing to care for her animals as well as a charge of failing to properly dispose of cats found in her home.

Knueven also faces a charge of obstructing justice, police said, because she tampered with traps that animal control officers had set to round up the feral cats still hiding in her home. Another charge, cruelty to animals, stems from the death of one of the cats, police said.

A court date has been set for Oct. 19, when police have said they will ask the judge to order a mental evaluation for Knueven and a court order allowing them to conduct periodic follow-ups to make sure more cats aren't piling up inside her home.

It was the second time since 2001 that police have taken more than 100 felines from her.

This time, on July 8, police were summoned to Knueven's home on Ludgate Drive when neighbors complained of a strong odor. According to court records, Knueven was reluctant to surrender her cats, working in concert with her daughter, Karen Forrest, 57, to hide them as investigators were combing her home.

Police returned to her home July 11 to check the traps they had set and found them empty. What investigators did find were seven cat carriers stashed in the backyard bushes crammed with 33 cats -- one of them dead. They believed Knueven was attempting to hide the animals from police and accidentally killed one, according to court records.

Police cited Knueven's resistance to give up the animals as the reason for searching Forrest's townhouse on Lakepointe Drive Wednesday night. Inside they found 38 adult cats, nine kittens and 134 dead felines. Police said they have expanded their investigation to include Forrest.

Like Knueven's home, Forrest's townhouse sustained extensive animal damage to the floors, walls and plumbing and was largely coated in animal waste. Both homes have been declared unfit for habitation until extensive repairs are made at a cost of many thousands of dollars, officials said.

Officials said the damage appeared to have occurred over a long period of time, leading police to conclude that Knueven was using the Burke townhouse as a second location where she kept her growing collection of feral cats. Nearly all the cats were undomesticated and suffered from contagious respiratory problems, officials said. All but eight were euthanized.
Source: Washington Post - July 18, 2005
Update posted on Jul 18, 2005 - 9:44PM 
Fairfax County police said yesterday that they will ask a judge Monday to declare an 82-year-old woman who hoarded 488 cats an unfit pet owner and prohibit her from owning animals.

This week, police removed the cats, many of them dead, from Ruth Knueven's home on Ludgate Drive in Mount Vernon and from her daughter's townhouse on Lakepointe Drive in Burke. It was the second time since 2001 that police have taken more than 100 felines from her.

Police said the court action to declare Knueven unfit is the next step in preventing her from continuing to hoard animals. Police said they will ask the judge to order a mental evaluation for Knueven and will seek a court order allowing them to conduct periodic follow-ups to make sure more cats aren't gathering.

"Our concern is how do we prevent [a recurrence] weeks and months down the road," said Mike Lucas, the county's senior animal control officer. Lucas said it is not unusual for those who have been deemed unfit to wind up in court again.

Meanwhile, police said yesterday that they seized 43 cats Thursday from a home on Lorfax Road in Lorton. Police charged Margaret Gaffney, 71, and Walter Gaffney, 40, with failing to care for their animals.

In the Mount Vernon case, Knueven has been charged with two counts of failing to care for her animals as well as a charge of failing to properly dispose of cats found in her home.

Knueven also faces a charge of obstructing justice, police said, because she tampered with traps that animal control officers had set to round up the feral cats still hiding in her home, and one of cruelty to animals, stemming from the death of one of the cats.

Police were summoned to Knueven's home July 8 when neighbors complained of a noxious odor. According to court records, Knueven was reluctant to surrender her cats, working in concert with her daughter, Karen Forrest, 57, to hide them as investigators were combing her home.

Police returned to her home July 11 to check the traps they had set and found them empty. Drawn to meowing in the back yard, investigators found seven cat carriers crammed with 33 cats -- one of them dead -- hidden in the bushes. They believed Knueven was attempting to hide the animals from police and accidentally killed one.

Police cited Knueven's resistance to give up the animals as the reason for searching Forrest's townhouse Wednesday night. Inside they found 38 adult cats, nine kittens and 134 dead felines. Police said they have expanded their investigation to include Forrest.

Like Knueven's home, Forrest's townhouse sustained extensive animal damage to the floors, wall and plumbing and was largely coated in animal waste. The Burke home has also been declared unfit for habitation until extensive repairs are made at a cost of many thousands of dollars, officials said.

The damage appeared to have been sustained over a long period of time, leading police to conclude that Knueven was using the Burke townhouse as a second location where she kept her growing clutter of feral cats.

Police have recovered an additional cat from inside the townhouse and have set traps both inside and out to round up stragglers. Nearly all the cats were undomesticated and suffered from contagious respiratory problems, officials said. All but eight were euthanized.

In an interview Wednesday, just hours before her daughter's townhouse was raided, Knueven said the blame for her collection of cats fell squarely on her own shoulders, explaining the problem "mushroomed" over a period of years.

She said she started taking in the cats to stanch a problem with strays created by a neighbor who leaves cat food in his open garage. She said that she was trying to protect them and that her efforts got out of hand as the cats began to multiply.

"I'm glad the nightmare is over," she said.
Source: Washington Post - July 16, 2005
Update posted on Jul 15, 2005 - 9:52PM 
Virginia authorities have discovered a second home full of feral cats belonging to a woman already charged with hoarding cats in another house.

Acting on a tip from neighbors in Burke, Va., officials obtained a search warrant Wednesday afternoon and retrieved 38 kittens and nine adult cats from a townhouse owned by 82-year-old Ruth Knueven. They also removed 134 dead cats.

No charges had been filed late Wednesday, police said, but Knueven faces three misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty and obstruction of justice stemming from her failure to care for and properly dispose of cats that were found last week in her Mount Vernon home, 18 miles away.

Since Saturday, animal control officers have removed 306 cats -- 87 of them dead -- from that home, which Knueven shares with her husband.

The couple has been ordered out of the house until repairs are made. Officials said rooms occupied by the cats were covered with cat waste and that the kitchen cabinets and plumbing were damaged by the animals.
Source: WebIndia - July 14, 2005
Update posted on Jul 15, 2005 - 11:09AM 

References

« VA State Animal Cruelty Map
« More cases in Alexandria City County, VA

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