On March 14, 2008, in one of the largest anti-cruelty raids of recent times, nearly 400 cats living in squalor were removed from a property known as the Tiger Ranch Cat Sanctuary in Tarentum, Pennsylvania.
Tiger Ranch, owned by Lin Marie, also known as Linda Bruno, billed itself a a sanctuary, taking in thousands of homeless and stray cats from all over the country. After numerous public complaints, an independent undercover investigator shot video inside the "sanctuary."
The video depicted hundreds of diseased cats, many suffering from obvious neglect, and two freezers containing the carcasses of an estimated 100 cats. On Thursday, March 13, the Pennsylvania SPCA (PSPCA) obtained a warrant to search the property from the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office. Tarentum, about 20 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, is a borough in Allegheny County on the Allegheny River. The PSPCA contacted the ASPCA for assistance.
On March 14, members of the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team swarmed the Tiger Ranch property. They found hundreds of cats living in filthy conditions in multiple buildings, including a single-family home, on the 28-acre property. Investigators also found a "death room" where dying cats were left to suffer. Hundreds of dead cats were also discovered, some in freezers inside the home, others in open burial pits and still others in plain view.
"We found other animals, too," said Allison Cardona, ASPCA Director of Field Operations, "including chickens, a goat, horses—all forced to stand in their own waste."
To assist in the triage of the seized animals, the ASPCA provided three fully equipped mobile clinics, including the Mobile Animal Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Unit, for use during the raid.
According to Dr. Melinda Merck, ASPCA Senior Director of Veterinary Forensics, the cats, ranging in age from three months to seven years, suffered from a host of ailments, including upper respiratory infections, skin wounds, abscesses, dehydration, malnutrition, dental problems, eye and bladder infections, "and many other medical conditions that could have been resolved with proper husbandry," she said.
"The overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, flea and parasite infestation, as well as the stress of competing for food and coping with untreated illnesses, resulted in severe medical conditions," said Dr. Merck.
Marie was arrested and charged with 574 counts of animal cruelty, including 203 misdemeanor charges and 371 summary offenses, to which Bruno pleaded not guilty at her arraignment.
On January 8, 2010, over a year after the raid took place, Marie was sentenced to two years of house arrest and 27 years of probation for the neglect and deaths of hundreds of cats housed on her property. The judge also sentenced Marie to one to six months in jail, but gave her credit for the 37 days she served in October 2009 for violating her parole by taking cats into her home again.
Marie pleaded guilty to 12 charges of misdemeanor animal cruelty and two other counts of tampering with evidence. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Marie must undergo extensive psychiatric treatment and cannot have contact with any animal for 27 years. She will also have to pay $200,000 in restitution to the Clarion County Humane Society in Shippenville, which cared for the surviving cats for over a year while the investigation was in progress.
The surviving cats were released for adoption in September 2009.
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