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Adoption Is for the Birds--and Cats, Dogs

Times Staff Writer

When Los Angeles animal control officer Stan Dean walked into a Hollywood residence last August, he wasn’t quite prepared for what he saw. Dozens of cats, many in cages, a clutch of dogs and exotic birds were everywhere in the old two-story house.

Upstairs, in a small bedroom, lay the body of their keeper--Peggy Lawford Lilienthal, 64, a member of the Levi Strauss family of blue jeans fame, who had died in her sleep of a heart attack two days earlier.

“I had the impression she might have been a little eccentric,” Dean said.

Since then, the city has taken care of the menagerie. And on Monday, the four- and two- legged residents of the Lilienthal household will be offered for adoption by the West Los Angeles animal shelter. “They’ll be some great animals to adopt,” said kennel supervisor Tom Hudson.

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Different Viewpoints

How Peggy Lilienthal, who lived alone in the house for a number of years, took care of her animals is in the eyes of the beholder.

“It was inhumane the way she kept the cats,” Dean said. “No light, no ventilation, a majority of them confined to cages.”

But her brother and his wife, Philip and Marjorie Lilienthal of the Northern California community of Healdsburg, although surprised by the number of animals found in the house, say that Dean simply does not understand the situation.

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Her late sister-in-law just couldn’t refuse a friend or a neighbor when they sought a home for a cat, dog or bird in need, Marjorie Lilienthal said. “It was an excessive number of cats,” she conceded. “She had always been an animal nut.”

Still, she underscored, people trusted Peggy Lilienthal with their pets. Nobody, she said, “would be turning cats over to an inhumane situation.” As for the cages, there was a perfectly good reason for them, too, she said: Peggy Lilienthal simply didn’t want to impose all of her friends--the cats--upon her neighbors.

By all accounts, Peggy Lilienthal lived a comfortable life in her home on Franklin Avenue. She was the niece of the late Walter A. Haas Sr., a pioneering executive with the Levi Strauss firm of San Francisco.

Opera Singer

During her youth, she displayed dual passions for music and animals. After World War II, Marjorie Lilienthal said, she sang in the chorus of the San Francisco Opera. She also became an accomplished equestrian.

Her love of animals obviously traveled with her to Los Angeles, where she moved in 1952 after her divorce from an Oakland Tribune cartoonist.

Five dogs, 32 cats and 17 birds were picked up by the city’s Department of Animal Regulation from the Lilienthal home on that warm August day. Since then, half of the cats and three of the birds have either died or been destroyed because of various diseases, according to animal control officials.

Sherman Oaks attorney Conrad L. Klein said Lilienthal did not leave a will. Thus, no provisions were made for the animals.

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So, since her death, the animals have been confined to the West Los Angeles shelter on Missouri Avenue. Because of a space crunch, the cats have been housed in what normally is the shelter’s dog kennel.

Among the 17 cats being offered for adoption are a Siamese, Persians and Persian mixes and several domestic long- and short-hair varieties. The five dogs include two Pekingese, a Pekingese mix, a miniature bulldog and a cocker spaniel. Among the birds are five parakeets, five lovebirds and a white dove.

Common Occurrence

Robert I. Rush, general manager of the Department of Animal Regulation, said it was hardly the first time the city has had to provide temporary housing for animals whose masters had died. In fact, he said, about 3% of the city’s 108,000 animals that are impounded annually are taken in for that very reason. And there is no time limit for keeping them while the complexities of probate law are played out, he added.

Rush recalled one unusual case in which a wealthy Los Angeles man a few years back left his nephew $300,000 with a stipulation that the cash came with the care of an Irish wolfhound. The nephew said “no way.” As a result, Rush said, “one big dog was left with us for over two years” until the nephew finally relented.

A visitor to the West Los Angeles animal shelter found Lilienthal’s cats huddled in a large cage where stray dogs usually roam. Some still had on multicolored rhinestone collars they had worn in their more comfortable Franklin Avenue residence.

It hasn’t entirely been a humdrum life for the cats while marking time until they find new homes. They have a guardian angel--Gloria Holtz of West Los Angeles, wife of the late comic Lou Holtz.

Holtz said she heard about the cats’ plight last month and that animal control officials gave her permission to visit them to offer friendship and to comb out their often-knotty fur.

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A visitor encountered her near the ersatz cat cage wearing a hospital-type smock. When she first arrived to visit the cats, Holtz said, the cats were in a state of “depression. They were kind of huddled and looked remote. The Siamese has the greatest personality. She demands constant attention. Some days when I went there, she was just lying there.

“Usually in this country, you hear stories of people going from rags to riches,” Holtz said. “This is the reverse.”


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