BREAKING: PSPCA Raid on Earp Street Worst Ever, 69+ Dogs Seized So Far
The stench surging out of the house was an ungodly combination of feces and urine, and the noises were the cries and howls of what PSPCA Director of Law Enforcement George Bengal estimates could be up to 100 animals living in squalor at 739 Earp St. in South Philadelphia tonight.
The PSPCA began the raid around 3 p.m. today. By 8:30 p.m., they had already rescued over 50 dogs and one cat from what Bengal called the worst case of animal hoarding he’s ever seen.
“I swear to god,” he said. “This place has more feces in it than I’ve seen in 20 years. The feces are two feet deep. It’s like a volcano pouring out of the house.”
“This is bad, this is so bad,” said another officer, leaning over and trying to cough the foul odor out of his throat.
By 10 p.m., sources say the tally was up to 69 living animals and 2 dead. The discovery of dead animals in the house escalates the impending charges from a summary offense to a misdemeanor, which means that the woman allegedly responsible, Fran Rotonta, 49, could be arrested.
Rotonta denied allegations of animal abuse and hoarding to PW just yesterday. PW had contacted Rotanta to inquire about neighbors’ ongoing complaints of a foul stench and concerns that she was abusing animals.
“I own four dogs and two cats,” she said. “I’m going to move because I can’t take this anymore. It’s B.S.,” she said.
Rotonta claimed she was the target of a harassment campaign that began a year ago after a dispute with some neighbors she could not name. She claimed that since the argument, spiteful neighbors sent cops, PSPCA officers and pizza delivery to her house, and that the harassment was making her sick.
“Last year, I had a heart attack,” she said. “It’s upsetting me, and now it’s starting again … They’re all liars.”
“I’m going to get a lawyer and sue them, that’s what I’m going to do,” she said.
She said the PSPCA had been just been to the house recently. “They said I was beating a cat up. Why do people do that? I would never do that. I love animals,” said Rotonta, sounding genuinely upset.
Rotonta said that she was so sick of the harassment that even though the Earp Street house has been in her husband’s family for generations, she was planning to leave and move “out to the country” this September to escape the harassment.
“The dogs do bark a little,” she conceded.
Rotonta reportedly lived in the house with her husband Rich, though neighbors say they frequently saw him sleeping in the car presumably to escape the odor. Rich sat on the stoop across the street and watched the raid but stayed away. He had no comment.
Dozens of neighbors stood in groups and stared as PSPCA investigators removed one dog at a time from the house. One PSPCA officer, some in hazmat suits and gas masks, would exit the front door holding up a captured dog to be photographed while another recorded the markings and sex and then gingerly placed it in a cubbyhole of the animal ambulance.
“We’re tripling them up in there,” said an officer.
The dogs coming out of the house varied in age and weight and condition, though they were all small and mostly Chihuahuas. Some clearly had untreated skin conditions. PSPCA officers pulled out a glass box that contained what looked like ten tiny black and white puppies each no bigger than a mouse. The officers estimated the puppies were about a week old.
Bengal said that the animals weren’t kept in cages in the house or locked in a basement, as neighbors feared. Instead, the dogs ran loose through all three floors of house, which was also packed with boxes and assorted junk. Bengal called Rotonta a hoarder, a term commonly used in animal circles for someone who collects animals the same way they tend to collect newspapers and random things.
“Unlike the woman last night, [Rotonta] admitted that she had a problem and that’s unusual,” said Bengal, referring to a similarly shocking raid that took place this Tuesday night. In Tuesday’s raid, 53 cats, eight dogs, 21 chinchillas and eight birds and more than 30 dead animals in a basement freezer were confiscated from the 5700 block of Mascher St.
Rotonta cooperated with authorities by surrendering the animals. If she hadn’t, the dogs would have had to stay at the PSPCA shelter during future court proceedings, which could stretch for years. Since she surrendered, they can likely be adopted and fostered after they are checked out and processed.
Bengal couldn’t of course confirm all the charges as the raid is ongoing, but he did say that so far, there is at least one charge of “unsanitary confinement” for each animal that is rescued from the house, at a fine of $750 per animal. There are likely additional fines for lack of medical care for the animals.
The lead PSPCA investigator on the case is Betty Sorrel. PSPCA policy prohibits Sorrel from commenting, but sources say that she has been working on the case since at least fall of last year, when neighbors grossed out by the smell and concerned about the possibility of this scenario—or worse—began contacting authorities.
Bengal says that the PSPCA and the city will help Rotonta find treatment for her problem, which he calls a mental illness.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “We’re not just about taking the animals. She definitely needs some psychiatric help … [This house] is uninhabitable for humans.”
Bengal confirmed that L&I condemned the property.
As the hours wore on, neighbors—all who requested to remain anonymous–were shocked but also sad. “We just know her all our lives. She’s a nice lady,” said a guy looking on. “I guess you could see that she loved animals.”
“Well I guess she did,” replied a woman sitting nearby on the stoop. “We’re up to what, 80? That’s not love. That’s sick.”