AN OVERWHELMING stench lingers among the rowhouses on the South Philly block. The acrid aroma of bleach attempts to mask the odor of the Chihuahua feces that had piled up inside the decrepit home at 739 Earp St.

They're familiar smells to neighbors on the tiny street just north of Reed Street.

"Folks have been making calls for the last three years," said a neighbor who asked not to be identified. "Every summer the smell has gotten worse."

Finally, the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals last week removed 85 Chihuahuas and other animals that were cooped up in the house. Animal-cruelty charges are pending against the dog owner, a woman neighbors referred to as "Frannie."

Now, after years of complaint calls to city officials and departments and to the PSPCA, some neighbors are wondering what took so long to remedy a problem that so obviously needed fixing.

A post on the Web site SeeClickFix.com shows that one neighbor tried getting authorities involved 11 months ago, and another woman posted a topic in September on the neighborhood forum PhiladelphiaSpeaks.com urging those within sniffing distance to begin contacting city officials.

"Lots of people have reported it and even gone so far as to work with Frannie because the smell was just so bad," said Annie Bagley, who lives two doors down from the house.

Bagley said the owners of the house between hers and the foul-smelling house had to seal the wall adjoining their house with 739 Earp St. to keep the stench from seeping through.

Records from the Department of Licenses and Inspections show seven violations against the house since 2003, including five in the last year. Real-estate and L&I records identify the owner of the house as Frank Rotonta, who couldn't be reached for comment.

Maura Kennedy, who speaks for L&I as deputy press secretary for the mayor's office, would not elaborate as to the nature of each violation but noted that the owner brought the property up to code in all but the most recent case.

PSPCA spokeswoman Liz Williamson said the agency had sent an investigator to the house earlier his year, but the owner barred the investigator from going inside. The house's windows are boarded up, and a smell is not enough to get a search warrant, she said.

"An odor in and of itself is not enough for probable cause," Williamson said. "Officers would still need proof that the animals themselves were living in an unsanitary area of the home."

A warrant was obtained after another tipster called in with an eyewitness report of animal abuse, she said without elaborating.

Neighbors on Earp Street, who often heard dogs barking in the house, said they were reluctant to speak with a reporter for fear of retaliation from the dog owner's family. Neighbors alleged that her relatives had threatened anyone who confronted her about the smell over the years.

But the stench was too powerful to do nothing. They met recently to come up with a game plan to flood city agencies with phone calls, hoping that if the number of calls increased, the problem would become a higher priority.

"We thought if enough of us called, something would be done," said one neighbor.