New Times Exclusive)">

Diane Carle, Palm Beach Cat Lady: "I'm Not A Criminal" (New Times Exclusive)

Diane Carle is not an agreeable person. She's irritable. She's reclusive. She's slovenly.

But according to Carle, who imprisoned 141 dead and dying cats inside her urine-washed home in one of the largest cases of cat-hoarding in Palm Beach history, she's no criminal.

"I have no record," Carle of Lake Worth told New Times Monday evening in her first public comments to date. "I have no criminal past. I don't see how they can press charges against me. I'll get my veterinarian to come to court. I was not cruel to any cat in any way, shape, or form."

That's not entirely accurate, said Captain David Waleski, of the Palm Beach Animal Care & Control. Several district attorneys want to charge Carle with animal cruelty, which he expects will come down any day. "These things sometimes take a few weeks," he said. At least six cats were found dead in the freezer, and, with the exception of 20 cats, all had severe physical and mental defects from living in filth for years.

In total, the county was forced to euthanize 120 of the cats, all of which were feral.

As Waleski told us last month, describing Carle's lair : "Picture the urine from 130 cats in just one day, and if you're not cleaning it up? And they were trapped inside the house for years."

Carle's feline affair began "many, many years ago," she said. It started with just a few cats. Growing up in Lake Worth in a household strewn with children and animals, she forged an unremitting bond with animals.

But then, as the years crept by, two cats turned to 10, then to 50, then 100. All the while, Carle said she didn't notice the quickly-multiplying animals. "It just happened," Carle said, who declined to say whether she's married or has children. "It didn't happen over night. It didn't happen over the last year. It happened over a long, long time.

"I had no idea I had so many cats. I probably didn't want to have so many cats. But I was caught up with everyday life and it just happened. I have a lot going on right now," she said, declining to describe what, in fact, she has going on beyond her job as a school bus driver with the Palm Beach County School District.

("These allegations are very disturbing, and there will be an investigation," Nat Harrington, school district spokesperson, wrote in an e-mail to the New Times. We expect all of employees to be kind to animals.")

One day six months ago, neighbors in Lake Worth started complaining, Waleski said. They'd heard strange things. They'd seen dozens of cats around the house.

Soon Carle heard a knock at the door. She creaked it open, releasing a smell of shit and death. Police said they were there to help her, she recalled. They just wanted to come inside for a minute.

Carle declined, maintaining her privacy for six more months until the police, after discerning probable suspicion, obtained a search warrant and forced their way inside.

This upset Carle very much. "It was bullshit," she said. "They have their laws and their regulations. Do you think I'm the only person in the City of Lake Worth who has cats? There are lots of people out there who hate animals. I love animals."

After police and the animal control agencies gathered the cats, they told Carle she was perhaps sick. They said she may suffer from a psychological syndrome known as "hoarding" -- characterized by compulsive acquisition of materials.

Conversation concerning the disorder assuages Carle's temper. "Do you think I'm the only person in Palm Beach who has this problem?" she asked. "Or whatever you want to call it? This hoarding? There's a lot of people who have this. I know it. This just got out of control."

As of now, Carle hasn't been charged with anything, and is still driving her school bus every day. Harrington said the school district can't take any punitive measures against her until charges are brought, if they ever are.

Until then, Carle says she's getting used to being cat-less. At first, her days were dark and sad. But now, things aren't so bad. Carle, who says she has no plans of buying more cats, likes being alone.

"I don't care who abandons me," she said. "It's my business."

Follow the writer @terrence_mccoy.

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