Dead, diseased cats found in woman's 2d apartment
By Peter Demarco, Globe Correspondent and Rhonda Stewart, Globe Staff Correspondent, 5/8/2003
Authorities yesterday discovered 12 dead cats and another 52 diseased and emaciated felines in a Watertown apartment rented by Heidi Erickson.
Erickson, whose rancid Beacon Hill apartment was condemned last week after Boston police and code inspectors found 60 dead cats in her refrigerator and freezer and cat feces and blood on floors, was at home at 78 Prentiss St. when authorities came to her door about noon yesterday.
Watertown police, accompanied by Board of Health officials, animal control officers, and a representative from the Animal Rescue League of Boston, presented her with a search warrant obtained early yesterday in Waltham District Court. They entered the four-room apartment and found cats throughout the dwelling - some in cages, some in a children's playpen, others roaming freely - as well as feces and urine-stained floors and a dozen deceased cats - mostly young cats and kittens - in the kitchen freezer.
As was the case in Erickson's Beacon Hill apartment, drugs marked for veterinarian use only were seized yesterday, said Alan Borgal, director of law enforcement for the Animal Rescue League of Boston.
The live animals were taken to one of the four Animal Rescue League shelters, where a veterinary team began examining them last night.
''We knocked on the door and stated our purpose there. I don't think she was that surprised,'' said Watertown police Lieutenant Michael Lawn.
''I would say on a whole she was basically cooperative,'' he continued. ''She was upset we were removing the cats. She asked us not to take the animals. `They're my family,' she said.''
Erickson, 42, was not arrested or cited but will face criminal charges ''along the lines of animal cruelty,'' Lawn said. If convicted, Erickson could be fined up to $1,000 or face up to a year's imprisonment for each animal cruelty charge. Boston authorities are weighing similar charges against the self-described Persian cat breeder.
Yesterday evening, Erickson spoke publicly outside her apartment building about the discovery authorities made yesterday. ''Today has been a horrendous assault upon my privacy, my family, and my dear cats,'' she said, wringing her hands.
Describing herself as a ''neat freak,'' Erickson said that she should be judged, not by authorities, but by cat breeders who understand her situation. ''There isn't anything weird going on here. I'm not cloning cats.''
She told the Globe last week that alleged evidence of her animal cruelty has been ''fabricated'' and ''over-exploded and trumped up.''
She also told WHDH-TV (Channel 7) that Boston officials photographed dead cats found in her Beacon Hill apartment that were not hers.
''Those photos don't represent the way I live,'' Erickson said. ''I have never mistreated my animals. I love my animals. My family has been taken from me and I'm working on trying to get it back.''
The Watertown discovery comes one day after a Boston Housing Court judge banned Erickson from living in Boston if she wants to keep cats.
Angela Perrigo, who lives one street over from Erickson's Watertown apartment, said she was one of the neighbors who called police yesterday after she saw a kitten sitting beside a cat carrier outside of the apartment. She added that a neighbor brought the kitten to his apartment after Erickson refused to bring it inside.
''I think they need to kick this lady out,'' she said. ''With something like this going on, how do you know something else is not going on?
Erickson told police she has been living in the Watertown apartment since April 27, one day before Boston authorities condemned her Charles Street apartment, Long said.
''But our information is that she's been there [in Watertown] since March,'' Long said, adding that Watertown officials learned of Erickson after Prentiss Street neighbors complained of foul smells emanating from her apartment.
The complaints date back to at least Monday, Long said.
As Erickson spoke last evening, neighbors Fabio Costa and Antonia Mores hung outside of their upstairs window, straining to hear her. They said they hadn't noticed any smells coming from Erickson's apartment but agreed that she should probably move out.
Authorities said they do not know if Erickson has rented other apartments in the Boston area.
Borgal said the cats recovered yesterday are in very poor health. He said that some are extremely emaciated, while others have severe upper respiratory tract infections and appear weak.
''Once you get into cats that have viruses, you don't continue to breed. You stop. Any hobby breeder would know enough to stop,'' he said. ''You breed when you have a healthy population.''
Erickson once told a customer she was ''very busy breeding the imperfections'' out of Persian cats, court documents indicate.
Watertown officials said they expected to condemn her apartment.
This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 5/8/2003.
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