Cat rescue: when being good and doing good can land you in jail

Let this story be a lesson to people who want to start up their own cat rescue organisation. It is a sad story of good people, trying to do good, believing that they are doing good but ultimately just falling short resulting in an abuse of cats through neglect which is something they would never have foreseen when they started. It seems they became overwhelmed. We have seen it before.

In a way, it is shocking that people who appear to be genuinely nice and who have put in so many hours of work and so much of their own money into improving the lives of unwanted cats should find themselves in the criminal courts being tried for a second-degree misdemeanour of animal cruelty.

And yet, the two owners Tom and Judie Brown and their two employees, Ellen Distler and Virginia Wolford-Lee of the pet rescue organisation, Caroline’s Kids Pet Rescue are going to have criminal convictions because they have been found guilty as charged. None of them had prior criminal convictions.

They went on trial on second August. The jury deliberated for three hours before returning their guilty verdict on August 5.

“I’ll never be the same. Ever,” Distler said.

“I would clean and care for the cats,” Wolford-Lee said. “I sang to the feral cats and taught them tricks.”

It is also sad that all four are between the ages of 78 and 65. Each charge is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a $750 fine. They will be sentenced within 30 days. I would expect modest fines.

A complaint was made about the condition of a number of animals at the rescue organisation which resulted in 161 cats being seized by the Lake Humane Society on November 28, 2016. Four of the cats were dead. One hundred animals were allowed to remain.

The prosecutor conceded that the defendants had noble intentions who appeared to be nice people but that they had perhaps inadvertently, violated a legal duty. I believe that the reference by the prosecutor is a legal duty to care for the animals to a reasonable standard.

The prosecutor, Mr Holland, makes an interesting point. He said that at some point the defendants became blinded by pride. They’d given up so much to open the cat rescue and given their time and money and their “sense of self”. Mr Holland stated that the defendants believed that they were heroes and when you’re a hero it is hard to admit mistakes. So they carried on until someone complained.

Update 9th Sept 2017: They have been convicted of animal cruelty and received suspended jail sentences. I believe they are appealing the convictions.

The argument from the defence was that the defendants could not be neglectful because the cats were taken to a veterinarian multiple times per day sometimes and many of the cats that they took in were already ill. The defendants also argue that the Humane Society who rescued the cats was a mess. They allege that the Humane Society lied and that the rescued cats were now in a worse situation (or no better off) than they were before when they were at Caroline’s Kids Pet Rescue. The defence attorney also stated that the Humane Society had presented a distorted picture of what was going on at Caroline’s Kids. In short, it was no near as bad as presented and that the prosecution should never have commenced.

In fact, Caroline’s Kids Pet Rescue are suing Lake Humane Society for US$5 million in a civil action. It is argued that the owners of Caroline’s Kids Pet Rescue were only suing the Humane Society to try and stop the criminal trial going forward. I would doubt that that was the reason but it failed so I now wonder whether they will discontinue the civil action.

I have a strong feeling that the civil action against the Humane Society is badly ill-conceived and is the brainchild of the attorney acting for the owners of Caroline’s Kids. I would allege that he is trying to milk the situation. It is not clear what the grounds of the claim are although they are making multiple accusations against the Humane Society such as extortion!

The end result is an awful mess. Can you imagine starting off with high hopes and ambitions for a successful cat rescue organisation and ending up beeing successfully tried for a crime and simultaneously suing the Humane Society for $5 million, the outcome of which is highly uncertain and likely to lead to heavy legal costs which will have to be paid for by the plaintiffs, Mr Mrs Brown. They may end up with severely depleted funds if not broke and certainly with a criminal record.

Source: News — Place: Cleveland, Ohio (court case).

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