Thursday, April 15, 2004

Some days are diamonds, and some are stones.

Terrible things happen to people and we write about them. This front-page story in our paper (the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader in this instance) this morning moved me more than any since the anniversary of the Bali bombings.

A sad ending for a kind-hearted lady who loved animals

Died alone in unit


Bernadette James lived for her many cats, which shared her small Department of Housing unit in Mortdale.

Mrs James, 63, also known as Bernadette Richards, died about five days ago in her bed, alone except for her beloved pets.

It wasn't until neighbours called police about the stench coming from her unit, that her body
and 12 cats were found.

Hurstville Council's animal welfare officers removed three cats from a small second bedroom, one cat roaming about the unit and another eight that had been locked in cupboards and wardrobes.

Neighbours in the well-maintained block said Mrs James's son and daughter had died about five years ago.

They said she had become a loner in the last three years and rarely left the Station Street apartment, except for doctors' appointments or to buy groceries.

However, the normally quiet grandmother became very upset a few weeks ago when the RSPCA visited her unit to check on the condition of the cats.

Two weeks ago she sent a letter to a neighbour, Jackie Wilson, accusing her of contacting the animal protection group.

``Watch out you don't suffer a tragic loss,'' Mrs James wrote.

``The only reason I get out of bed is because of my pets.''

Mrs Wilson, who denied she had contacted the RSPCA, said her carpeted unit had been full of fleas for years because of Mrs James's cats and the smell of cats' urine and faeces often had been overwhelming.

``But it's still a very sad ending. I feel very sad,'' she said.

Friend Allan Leister said Mrs James was a ``kind-hearted lady'' and a loner.

``She was a lovely lady who lived for her cats,'' he said.

``She used to take in stray cats. She didn't go out much, just to buy groceries and cat food.''

Nearby shopkeeper Rima Obeid said Mrs James had not been in her store for about three years.

``But before that she used to come all the time and tell me about her animals,'' Ms Obeid said.

``I used to see her on her balcony with a lot of her cats. She was a lovely lady, but I assume she got very sick because she was very frail in the last few years.''

Police said there were no suspicious circumstances relating to Mrs James's death.

The council's head animal officer, Wayne Asplett, said the 12 cats were all very well looked after.

RSPCA deputy chief inspector David O'Shannessy said an inspector visited the unit on March 12.

``At that time there were fewer than 10 cats in the unit .... and because of the conditions in which they were kept there was no concern,'' Mr O'Shannessy said.

He said the RSPCA could only act if there was a problem under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

At the time of the visit, there was no breach of the act.

Our blessings, we should count


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