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Deputies describe a scene of squalor, including three cat bodies found in a freezer. The parents are arrested.
By CHRIS TISCH
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 28, 2001
SEMINOLE -- Maybe the strangest part of this tale is that neighbors said they never saw a single cat at the yellow and white house at 9433 Starkey Road.
Not outside. Not in the windows. Not in the carport.
But when investigators entered the home Tuesday morning, they saw 21 of them. They were crawling everywhere, including in the bedroom of a 14-year-old child who lived there, Pinellas County sheriff's deputies said.
Then there was the freezer.
Inside, next to frozen foods, were three felines frozen stiff.
Deputies said the boy's parents told them they were their favorite cats. They froze them because they wanted to save them and have them stuffed, investigators said.
The parents, Thomas E. Weber, 44, and Gertrude E. Weber, 38, both were arrested on charges of child neglect and animal abuse. The charges were based on the condition of the house, which deputies said wasn't fit to be a home for animals, let alone a child.
"The stench was so bad I thought there was a body," said next-door neighbor Beau Haning. "It would make your eyes water, like ammonia."
The Webers were being held at the Pinellas County Jail on Tuesday on $30,000 bail each. The boy was remanded into the custody of his grandparents. Pinellas County Animal Services took the cats into custody, including the frozen ones.
Almost all the cats were of the Siamese variety, though "It was kind of hard to tell the ones in the freezer," said Sheriff's Cpl. Bruce van de Gohm.
There were about seven kittens in the batch.
Though deputies said some older cats were mangy-looking and dirty, all the cats are healthy, said Welsh Agnew, assistant director for Pinellas County Animal Services.
Child protective investigators had visited the home in October. They found one cat in the freezer and found the home had "borderline" living conditions, said Sheriff's Office spokesman Cal Dennie.
The couple was warned to clean their home, and told that investigators would return.
They came back at 9 a.m. Tuesday and made their discovery.
The Webers told deputies the cats in the freezer, including a kitten, died of natural causes.
Food was provided to the cats but there were no litter boxes. Van de Gohm called Tuesday's situation the worse case he's seen of animals living in squalor.
Neighbors said they didn't know what Thomas Weber did for a living. Deputies said his wife worked at a local nursing home.
Across-the-street neighbor Leon Smith saw the patrol cars at the house and wondered what was happening. Smith, an owner of a Siamese cat and two dogs himself, couldn't believe it when he found out.
"That's sick," he said. "Why in the hell would you have a cat in the freezer?"
Agnew said animal services will keep the cats until either the Webers or the Sheriff's Office decide what to do with them. There are no plans to conduct necropsies on the dead cats, though Agnew said animal services will keep them until the owners contact him.
"There is nothing illegal about that," he said of the freezing, though he had never heard of anyone freezing a pet in their home.
"In fact, that's probably what old Roy Rogers did to Trigger, though he probably didn't do in in his home freezer," Agnew said. "He probably rented some space."