Councillor Josh Matlow

Toronto Star: ‘Neighbour from hell’ harboured more than 100 cats

Ask the neighbours about Diane Way and they will tell you about two different women. One is intelligent, articulate and well-educated, a lawyer with four degrees who held high-level positions with the federal government. The other is belligerent, menacing and careless, allowing her home to fall into disrepair and pollute the street with the pungent stench of cat urine.

This week, after years of complaining to the city about the odour emanating from her house, neighbours finally discovered its source. The OSPCA has removed more than 100 cats from Way’s home on Manor Rd. in recent weeks — from the walls, from the ceiling and rafters.

All of the cats were alive. Some of the cats have ruptured eyes, urine scalding, open sores and hair loss. They are inbred and show signs of being feral. OSPCA spokeswoman Alison Cross said up to five staff members are needed to examine each cat because they are scared of human contact.

Police charged Way, 63, with cruelty to animals and causing or permitting unnecessary suffering to animals. The OSPCA continues to investigate and charges under the provincial animal welfare act are pending.

Way declined requests for an interview. Her lawyer, Jill Makepeace, said in an email that Way “has never intended to cause harm or injury to any animal and indeed has been fully cooperative with the investigation conducted by the OSPCA.”

“If you met her on the street, (you) would have no idea what she did and wouldn’t think she could do it,” said Emmi Klimkat, an 87-year-old woman who lives across the street. Way has been staying with her ever since her house was closed off with yellow police tape on a recent Sunday.

Earlier that day, a federal election pollster, unaccustomed to the smell, feared there was a dead body inside Way’s house.

The pollster called police. Firefighters used sledgehammers to break down the back door. Inside, they found floorboards buckled by urine and feces.

Way lives alone in the two-storey brick house on Manor Rd., a quiet street of modest homes in a well-established neighbourhood. She purchased the house with a man in 1993 but took sole possession of it 11 years later. Klimkat said Way is an only child originally from Chicago and rarely, if ever, had any company at her home. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a law degree in 1987 and was most recently employed as a sessional professor at George Brown College, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Way wasn’t home when police cars and fire trucks swarmed her street that Sunday. When she returned in the late evening, she gave the OSPCA permission to retrieve the cats before the police took her in for questioning. Later, Klimkat got a phone call from police asking if Way, whom she described as “a close acquaintance,” could stay at her house.

That first night, Klimkat said, Way sat at the kitchen table staring straight ahead, saying she didn’t know how she let this happen. But days later, as OSPCA agents continued to lay traps for cats still inside, Klimkat said Way claimed there was nothing wrong with the animals.

“She blames not herself, but the people who didn’t take her cats,” said Klimkat.

Denial is a strategy that has failed Way in the past.

In 2004, she was fired from her job at the Canada Revenue Agency for accepting a job with another government department, the Canadian Forces Grievance Board, and not informing either employer.

Instead, she took vacation from the CRA to report to her new job at the CFGB in Ottawa. Then she obtained a doctor’s certificate to take sick leave from the CFGB to return to the CRA. By the third week, when she took more vacation days from CRA, the scheme was discovered by the CFGB.

Way unsuccessfully fought her termination from the CRA, claiming that despite signing a letter of acceptance with the CFGB, she hadn’t actually taken the job. She characterized the second position as “shadowing,” a “voluntary internship” or “trying out a job.” The adjudicator hearing her grievance didn’t buy it and chastised Way for her “staggering lack of candour.”

“A part of Ms. Way’s behaviour is her refusal to accept responsibility for her actions,” wrote the adjudicator, Barry Done. “One only wonders how long this charade might have lasted had things not come to a head.”

Klimkat, an animal lover devastated to learn of the cats’ suffering, said she saw Way’s first litter of cats about three years ago. Back then, Way told Klimkat that she wanted to get them spayed and neutered and find them homes.

Not long after, Way’s next-door neighbour, Peter Murphy, started complaining to the city about her garden, the state of her house and the smell. Way’s garden, though it appeared tall and unruly, met standards for a natural garden exemption.

Harold Durnford, whose family lives on the other side of Way’s house, also complained about the garden. To deal with it, he built a fence and trimmed back the bushes when they grew across his driveway. Way’s response, he said, was to stand on the corner of his property and stare into his house for up to half an hour at a time. The animosity was palpable.

Like Murphy, Durnford gave up complaining about the smell. It was so strong that Canada Post stopped delivering Way’s mail, but it seemed nothing could be done. City officials repeatedly told them they couldn’t enter Way’s house without her permission.

“She has been the neighbour from hell,” Murphy said. “But at the same time, she’s an old woman who has pretty much been, we would imagine, abandoned by family.

“There are people whose hands are bound and there are people who looked away and I think the more important story here is the people who looked away.”


The seizure of more than 100 cats from Diane Way’s house on Manor Rd. came after years of complaints about her garden, the state of her home and its overwhelming stench.

Next-door neighbours Peter Murphy and his wife, Eduarda Sousa, complained to Municipal Licensing and Standards (MLS), Public Health, Animal Services and Michael Walker, then councillor for Ward 22.

After Murphy sent several emails over the summer of 2009, Walker and a representative of MLS visited Way’s home. She was instructed to clear the garbage from her front porch. Walker, now retired, recalled Way as “unusual but competent.”

Despite the smell, neither he nor city staff could enter her home without permission.

“It’s a last resort to take away somebody’s rights. We don’t have a right to search somebody’s home,” he told the Toronto Star.

In January 2010, Way was granted a natural garden exemption by the Toronto and East York Community Council, on the condition of an inspection in fall 2010. That condition was fulfilled but it’s not clear whether a follow-up report was ever made to council.

Way’s application was supported by several individuals, as well as the North American Native Plant Society. Deborah Dale, now the treasurer of that organization, wrote in an email to Murphy that said members of the society had visited the home the previous summer but saw no evidence problems. Dale “made no note of odor problems (sic). . . Any cats passing through the garden would, however, be the fault of their owners in allowing them to run loose, not that of the visited property owner.”

After more complaints about the smell, MLS visited again last fall. After an inspection of the exterior, nothing that would normally cause an odour was found. Multiple attempts to contact Way were unsuccessful, so the home’s interior could not be inspected.

Animal Services visited the house three times in 2009 and 2010. Twice, Way wasn’t home. “On one occasion, they issued six cat licenses — the maximum allowed — and issued a written warning for odour. Because Animal Services couldn’t go inside, they couldn’t determine how many cats lived in the home or whether Way was properly caring for them.

“Occasionally, the systems don’t work well,” Walker said, suggesting that legislation be reviewed to create a system that coordinates response to problem houses such as this. Josh Matlow, the area’s new councillor, said it’s something he plans to look into.

For Way’s neighbours, the situation is far from resolved. Toronto police Det. Jamie McCormack said once the OSCPA has recovered all the cats, police will work with public health and city inspectors to determine what will be done with the house and with Way.

“Right now, we have no concerns about her as far as her being able to look after herself,” McCormack said.

Sousa said she hopes there is help for Way “her so she doesn’t move somewhere else and start all over again.”

“Or worse, move back in,” said Murphy.

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