Unfortunately, the Julianne Westberry case continues in South Carolina, and has drawn global attention. Not only for the number of cats dead under her care, but because South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) has stepped in to investigate. This is what’s happening now.SLED is investigating the case due to the monetary donations collected by Westberry. Belton Police Chief Tommy Clamp says he’s been contacted by people from New York to Florida and from as far away as the UK by people who sent Westberry money to support her rescue.
This Examiner article tells us the case has now reached the court system in Anderson County. This PoC page is a good place to start (or click on the link in the first sentence) if you don’t know the story. This case will be going to General Sessions Court, if I’d reading the paperwork correctly. The Family Court Judge may also be involved, since Westberry has a minor daughter who may have been present when the abuse was inflicted.
The court will be treating this as a felony case on the ill treatment of animals charges saying she
“did through omission or commission, torture, torment or inflict excessive or repeated unnecessary pain or suffering on a cat in her care which resulted in the death of said cat.”
Clamp contacted SLED on Wednesday, and spokesman Thom Berry has confirmed the agency is investigating. The case being handed over to SLED is serious. Now Julianne will have to worry about the fraud charges everyone is trying to get her on, as well as the 10th Circuit Solicitor’s Office who will try the felony ill treatment of animals and torture charges.
Now for the newest development. Julianne’s boyfriend has signed over the cats from his property to Anderson County Animal Control. There are at least 60 cats there, and they’re being trapped and supposedly taken to Anderson County PAWS, which is the county animal shelter. Those cats are in better condition than those found at the Belton home, and no charges have been filed against Marshall Shaw, who surrendered the cats.
I emailed shelter director Jessica Cwynar about the fate of the cats. She replied saying the cats would be cared for on a case to case basis. As hard as the staff has worked on the house survivors, everyone has been hopeful the farm cats would be given time to be identified and rescued.
Several people, today, have said emails and phone calls have gone unanswered at the shelter. This could happen, especially if the shelter staff is overwhelmed with the number of cats being brought in. By the way, the total number cats and kittens combined, unaccounted for, is around 800 at this time. Cats and kittens Julianne had promised to find homes for. So this is a really big deal for cat lovers following the story. We want the cats to have the chance to go back to the shelters and fosters who cared for them before Julianne “rescued” them. There are rescues and private individuals more than willing to give these poor survivors a home, so it’s not like they’re unwanted.
What may happen, should the shelter decide not to allow the cats to go to reputable rescues and fosters, is to get an injunction against the shelter to ensure the cats aren’t euthanised. Everyone is hoping it doesn’t come to that, as the shelter has been fantastic in caring for the first round of Westberry cats. Even those who didn’t survive the weekend were given the opportunity to live. They were just too far gone.
It’s almost 2 a.m. in South Carolina. The latest news is Ash Truesdale, who has worked night and day trying to match up these cats with their shelter photos, will be meeting with the director of the Anderson County PAWS shelter at noon Thursday. Let’s hope an understanding can be reached.
This case has several legal issues to contend with. The first being that since this is now a SLED investigation, the condition of these cats should be considered. But since Julianne didn’t have these cats on her property, she most likely won’t face any charges for their condition. The second issue is since this is turning into a fraud investigation, with the cats being pulled using the Anderson County Humane Society’s 501c3 status without their permission, these cats were obtained under fraudulent pretences.
This should mean the man who signed the cats over to the county legally doesn’t have the right to do so. We all feel these cats should be taken to the shelter, scanned for microchips and photographed, and the photos posted on the Anderson County PAWS Facebook page. This is what happened with the cats from the Belton home. Right now, many of us are going without sleep trying to save these 60+ cats who technically aren’t legally tied to Julianne at this time. It’s the biggest mess I’ve ever had to deal with in writing to save these cats.
Let me also use this as a plea to the Anderson County PAWS director and staff. When there’s a puppy mill raid or a dog abuse case, as there have been over the past year, PAWS has stepped up to make room and care for all of the dogs involved. In one puppy mill raid, the old shelter was opened as an emergency housing option for the dogs. Don’t these cats deserve the same respect? To not give rescues, shelters, adopters and fosters the opportunity to take these cats is unthinkable.
Michael, you’re a retired solicitor. What are your thoughts on this? Personally, I’d like these cats to be documented as being part of the SLED investigation since money was paid to “rescue” these cats. Microchips and photo’s matched to the cats should keep them safe from euthanasia until the person best suited to take each cat can get the cat out of the shelter. It’s not like there aren’t plenty of offers where people want to either donate to rescues willing to save these precious babies, who are sick, semi-feral and in many cases emaciated. This isn’t something that can be solved in a day. Especially not by euthanizing them.
You can keep up with this situation by following Ash Truesdale here on Facebook.