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Dover-area woman guilty of letting 12 cats die, allowed home to become toxic

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

A Dover-area woman has avoided prison for allowing a dozen cats in her home to die and decompose.

The smell of cat urine inside Deborah Fenimore's former home was so strong that investigators had to wear gas masks to go inside, according to Northern York County Regional Police.

Fenimore, 68, pleaded guilty in York County Court on June 18 to one all-encompassing misdemeanor count of animal cruelty, according to court records.

She was sentenced to two years' probation by presiding Common Pleas Judge Gregory M. Snyder, who ordered Fenimore to undergo a mental-health evaluation and not to own any animals during the course of her probation.

In exchange for her plea, 13 counts of third-degree felony aggravated cruelty to animals were dismissed, as were seven misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, court records state.

Police said there were a total of 21 cats in the home, alive and dead.

Defense attorney Korey Leslie said the area of Solar Drive where Fenimore lived had a large number of stray cats, and Fenimore began providing them with food and water.

Deborah Fenimore

Cared for strays: But when she had to move out to care for ailing loved ones, "her attention was taken away from her home," he said.

"She went there every day to make sure those cats had food and water, but she let everything else fall to the wayside," Leslie said. "She had too much on her plate."

Fenimore continued to pay rent there and made sure the cats were able "to come and go as they pleased," the attorney said, meaning she had no idea how many cats were living in the home.

Fenimore became overwhelmed by all her responsibilities, he said.

"She didn't set out to hurt cats," Leslie said, but he noted his client acknowledged in court that she neglected them.

Court documents filed by Northern Regional Police state that officers were called to Fenimore's former rental home in the 2900 block of Solar Drive in Dover Township on Dec. 23 by a contractor doing work there.

'Uninhabitable': The odor of animal feces, ammonia and mold were overwhelming, according to court documents, which state that every surface of the home was covered in feces.

"The conditions in the home were so extreme that it is uninhabitable for human life," documents state. "To be within the home in a safe manner officers were required to wear gas masks."

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Officers searched the home to find any living animals that could be rescued and found six feral cats that were later euthanized, police said.

They found 12 cat skeletons as well, according to police.

A subsequent search located three more feral cats, documents said, one of which had to be euthanized because of a severe puncture wound in its mouth.

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Fenimore had moved out of the rental home two or 2½ years before police learned of the situation, but she went there daily, according to court documents.

A neighbor told investigators he saw Fenimore going into the home every day, sometimes twice a day, police said.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the name of the presiding judge.