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Abused Wife Puts Cat House Behind Her

MASON, Ohio - Don't call her the Crazy Cat Lady.

Tonya Parrish is a victim of domestic abuse. She has the cats - lots of them - to prove it.

The animals were unwanted gifts from her husband, Ed Mitcheff. He took in strays and never let them go.

Parrish met Mitcheff online. The self-proclaimed preacher from Chicago is a poster child for avoiding internet romance.

"Ed put me through four years of hell," Parrish said. He kicked her. He threatened to kill her. He spied on her phone calls. He alienated her from family and friends. He brought hoards of cats into her home and her life.

Now, he's gone. Mitcheff died from a drug overdose July 4. Seven months after his death, however, Parrish must clean up the mess caused by a house-full of cats.

How many cats? Dozens and dozens. There were so many, in fact, public health officials lost track when they tried to count them.

"I'm so embarrassed by this," said the 43-year-old graphic artist whose favorite subjects to paint - in a style where cubism meets cave painting - are horses, not cats.

Parrish stood on her front porch. Behind her, six cats perched on her living room's windowsill.

"Do I want all of these cats? No. Do I want the house to smell like cat pee? No," Parrish said.

"Do I want them to find a good home? Yes. I've already gotten eight adults adopted since the first of the year."

Does she want her story told? Yes. "I want other women to know," Parrish said, "that even though they are in an extreme situation like this they should not give up hope."

Life with Mitcheff was was feline-based psychological abuse, said one expert.

"He used those cats as a weapon," said Kendall Fisher, executive director of Women Helping Women, an oasis for abuse victims. "He used them to control, to isolate her. Isolation is one form of abuse."

After Mitcheff's death, which was ruled a suicide by an overdose of morphine and the tranquilizer diazepam, Warren County Health Department Inspector Carrie Yeager visited Parrish. She brought the county dog warden with her. "The dog warden tried counting the cats," Yeager said. "There were so many and so many looked alike, he gave up."

Yeager estimated, there were at least 65. They roamed upstairs and downstairs. They lounged on the furniture and stained the carpeting. They were out of control.

Yeager wants to help Parrish get things under control. Warren County has no ordinance limiting the number of cats in a home. So, Yeager's goal is to make Parrish's house "safe and sanitary."

Parrish said her cat population "may be down to 30. That's still too many."

She wants to put 23 more up for adoption. "I've always had seven cats," she said. "That's enough."

The cat problem began in October 2006. Mitcheff let a pregnant stray cat into the house. After the stray's kittens were born, he kept them. More kittens came. They stayed, too, even though he griped that there were too many cats in the house.

The cat population at the house Parrish bought in 2000 soon got out of hand.

She tried setting up adoptions. But when adopters came to the door, her jobless, stay-at-home husband would say: "You're not worthy."

Foiling cat adoptions was one form of control Mitcheff exerted over his wife.

"Ed would change our phone number to keep my family from calling," Parrish said. "He'd threaten me all the time about how he was going to take away my house, how he could make me disappear."

Mitcheff was physically imposing. He stood about six-four and weighed 220 pounds, Parrish said. He was a foot taller and 110 pounds heavier than his wife.

Parrish and Mitcheff met via an online dating service called: "Love Access." She got access. But no love.

"I was looking for a man with God in his life," she explained. "Ed read the Bible. He said he was a preacher."

After a two-month courtship, they married on Friday, May 13, 2005. "Friday the 13th, should have been a warning," Parrish said.

Another warning came 16 days later. The newlyweds got into an fight. Parrish called the police. The paperwork on the incident became part of 72 pages of police reports that would be filled out by officers responding to her address.

The volume of police reports ceased with Mitcheff's death. But, Parrish's troubles continue. She must find homes for the cats while repairing her self-esteem.

"It might appear that, with all of the cats around me, I am the Crazy Cat Lady," she said after lunch.

"But, I'm not crazy," she insisted. "I went through four years of being held prisoner in my own home. I lost myself.

"I need," she said with a faint smile, "to find me again."

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