Friday, July 17, 2009

'Cat Lady' eccentric, but was she competent?

By Zeke MacCormack

JOHNSON CITY — Glinnie Berry died in her disheveled home amid feces and urine from the cats she loved.

Family and neighbors repeatedly had sought help for Berry — known in her rural area and in nearby Johnson City as “The Cat Lady” — whose body was found Tuesday.

Preliminary autopsy results show Berry, 72, died from heart disease, with heat stress a contributing factor.

“Her living conditions were extremely bad. She couldn't clean it up and she had no money to hire someone,” neighbor Eva Roop said, estimating Berry had 70 cats. “The cats needed rescuing as much as Glinnie.”

But Adult Protective Services officials say Berry, while eccentric and clearly in need of assistance, was deemed mentally capable by her doctor.

“Our authority to do something ends when she said, ‘I don't want your help,'” said Chris Van Deusen, agency spokesman. “She had the capacity to refuse help, and that's what she did.”

Blanco County Sheriff Bill Elsbury shares that view, calling Berry's mental faculties “fine” despite her poor living conditions and hoarding of cats.

“She said, ‘It's my life and I'm going to live it the way I want,'” he said.

Berry, who claimed to own only four cats and called the rest strays, was the subject of animal cruelty complaints, but they went nowhere, Elsbury said.

“This lady basically spent her life savings taking care of cats,” he said.

Blanco County has no ordinance limiting the number of pets per household.

A San Antonio resident must get a permit to keep more than eight cats or five dogs, or an aggregate number of eight cats and dogs, said Lisa Norwood, spokeswoman for Animal Care Services.

Justice of the Peace Terry Carter said Berry, found in a nightgown on her bedroom floor, likely died last weekend..."  More