W.Pa. sanctuary took in thousands of cats

April 29, 2008 4:57:26 AM PDT

Rebecca McDonald of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals testified that she saw hundreds of sickly cats, many coated in mucus about the face, and others with open, bloody wounds.

Linda Bruno, 45, of Frazer Township, is charged with hundreds of summary and misdemeanor animal cruelty offenses. Authorities allege that her failure to provide veterinary care amounted to cruelty.

Bruno has pleaded not guilty, and her attorney, Ron Valasek, argued unsuccessfully for dismissal of the most serious charges. Valasek said Bruno would be cleared.

McDonald and an Allegheny County Sheriff's detective testified that the walls of Bruno's house, including her bedroom, and the walls of other buildings on the 29-acre property were covered in mucus from sick cats sneezing.

Video footage played in court showed the walls along with seemingly lethargic cats. Also shown in court were photos of dozens of cats, many appearing sickly and with open, bloody wounds.

McDonald testified that she found some medication, but no evidence indicating that any cats had been treated.

Records indicated that the sanctuary took in 6,482 cats in 2007, but adopted out 14, McDonald said.

On a recorded statement played in court from a March 13 raid by law enforcement and humane agents, Bruno estimated that she took in 1,500 cats in 2007 and adopted out several hundred, most to qualified horse farms. McDonald said she found no records that any cats went to horse farms.

Other records indicated that Bruno took in 786 cats in the first 10 weeks of 2008 and adopted out nine, McDonald said.

During the raid, investigators removed 380 live cats, of which 263 were being housed in a Clarion County animal shelter, McDonald said. The rest died or had to be euthanized.

Officials found 108 dead cats on the property during the raid - 107 in a freezer and one dead in a litter box, according to McDonald and Detective Richard Manning.

In her recorded statement, Bruno said 70 to 80 percent of the cats were in "perfectly good health." She also said she had 292 live cats and perhaps 40 to 50 dead cats awaiting burial.

Sick cats were to be expected, Bruno said.

"That's like going to a hospital and saying 'Look at all these sick people here, you son of a gun,"' she said on the recording.

Bruno has said she took in cats that no one else wanted and that she did not euthanize cats. A statement on Tiger Ranch's Web site called it a place "where mercy triumphs over justice."

McDonald also testified that she found an unused burial pit 32 feet long, 12 feet wide and 12 feet deep. Two other filled pits of similar size were also found, she said.

Bruno said on the recording that perhaps 250 cats died a year.

The hearing resumes Tuesday, with several veterinarians expected to testify.