Case Snapshot
Case ID: 1275
Classification: Hoarding, Neglect / Abandonment
Animal: captive exotic
More cases in San Bernardino County, CA
More cases in CA
Person(s) in animal care
Child or elder neglect
Login to Watch this Case

New features are coming soon. Login with Facebook to get an early start and help us test them out!

Images for this Case

For more information about the Interactive Animal Cruelty Maps, see the map notes.

Tuesday, Apr 22, 2003

County: San Bernardino

Charges: Felony CTA
Disposition: Convicted
Case Images: 7 files available

» John Weinhart
» Wendelin Rae Ringel - Dismissed
» Marla Smith

Case Updates: 26 update(s) available

Investigators who raided the property of a noted animal rescuer discovered more than 90 dead tigers, including 58 cubs stuffed into freezers, as well as other exotic animals suffering from malnutrition, authorities said yesterday.

Officials who carried out the Tuesday raid in Riverside County said they found tiger and leopard cubs crawling around the home's attic, two small alligators in the bathtub and two hungry tigers roaming around the porch. Behind a gate in the front yard, authorities said they came across 30 dead adult tigers, some with their legs tied together.

"The worst of it was that everywhere you went on the property there were dead animals," said Chuck Traisi, who took the live animals to his rescue facility in San Diego County. "Everyone was in a state of disbelief. There were cats that had long been dead and in various states of decay strewn everywhere."

Riverside County sheriff's deputies arrested John Weinhart, 60, who runs a well-known animal sanctuary called Tiger Rescue in nearby Colton. The facility serves as a home for tigers retired from the circus and entertainment industry and has long been a popular weekend destination for families who for a small fee can see the felines.

Weinhart is often portrayed in newspapers stories and his own promotional material as a dedicated protector of exotic animals.

But in November, the state Department of Fish and Game raided the Tiger Rescue headquarters. San Bernardino County prosecutors charged him with unlawful public display of tigers, breeding without a permit, failure to clean animal cages and supplying the animals with insufficient food and water. Weinhart pleaded not guilty to those charges and will face trial in late May.

The latest raid occurred a few miles away at Weinhart's home near the community of Glen Avon. Also arrested Tuesday was Weinhart's wife, Marla Smith. Both were charged with one count of child endangerment because the couple's 8-year-old boy lived among the animals, said Paul Dickerson, a Riverside County deputy district attorney. The boy was turned over to the county's social services department.

Wendelin Rae Ringel, a veterinarian who worked for Weinhart, was arrested and charged with animal cruelty.

Steve Jefferies, a spokesman for Tiger Rescue, strongly denied that Weinhart or the other suspects did anything to harm the animals.

The live cubs were placed at Weinhart's five-acre property because they had to be hand-fed every four hours, Jefferies said, adding that the alligators were personal pets.

He also said the couple's child wasn't in any danger. "I've known that kid since he was in diapers and he's always seemed healthy to me," Jefferies said.

Jefferies also disputed authorities' allegations that they found 100 dead animals at Weinhart's home. He said there were well under 30 corpses, and most of them had been dead for at least five years. He said he did not know why the dead animals were on the property or how they got there.

When asked about the 58 dead cubs found in freezers, Jefferies replied: "We keep them for research reasons."

Tippi Hedren, the former movie actress who runs a wildlife sanctuary in Acton, Calif., said she visited Tiger Rescue a few years ago when it was in Glen Avon. She said she was "disgusted" by its filthy conditions. The animals lived in their own waste, she said, and did not have enough to drink because the only water was placed in upside-down trash lids. Hedren said she called the U.S. Department of Agriculture to complain but is not aware of any action taken.

"I wish I could get inside his head," Hedren said. "In my wildest imagination I cannot understand how anyone could do this."

Wayne Pacelle, vice president of Humane Society of the United States, said there has been an increase in the number of tigers being raised for the exotic pet trade under the guise of a rescue facility.

"We call them pseudo-sanctuaries," he said. "They're primarily engaged in commercial activities while passing themselves off as a nonprofit."

Pet-Abuse.Com has created a website to keep the public updated on case events and progress. You may visit this site by going to

Case Updates

Former tiger sanctuary owner John Weinhart filed two claims this month against Riverside County, seeking more than $20 million in damages stemming from encounters with county code enforcement officers and probation officers.

Weinhart, 66, accuses probation officers of false arrest and imprisonment, infliction of emotional distress, and violating his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.

He alleges elder abuse and violations of his Fourth Amendment rights in his claim against code enforcement officers.

Weinhart said Friday he would not comment, on the advice of his attorney.

Riverside County spokeswoman Lys Mendez said the claims are under review and declined further comment.

The claims include no details of the alleged encounters.

Weinhart was on probation after being convicted in 2005 of multiple felony animal cruelty counts and one count of child endangerment.

He was sentenced to two years in county jail and placed on five years probation.

Riverside County Superior Court records show that Weinhart was charged in April with being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and a prohibited person possessing a firearm or ammunition.

He pleaded guilty last month and is due to be sentenced Feb. 9.

Hans Hansen, a Probation Department division director, said people placed on probation agree to unannounced, warrantless searches.

Hansen said Weinhart was found in possession of a loaded rifle during the April search of his property on Bellegrave Avenue in Glen Avon.

In October 2007, Riverside County code enforcement officers served a search warrant on the Bellegrave Avenue property and allegedly found more than 200 inoperable vehicles and several substandard structures.

He was ordered to clean up the property.

Jim Shaver, who said he witnessed the raid, said code enforcement officers used "Gestapo tactics."

"The people that went out there abused their power," Shaver said. "These are people's lives."

Weinhart's Colton sanctuary, Tiger Rescue, which housed dozens of exotic cats, was shut down in 2003 after an investigation by agents of the California Department of Fish and Game turned up multiple violations.

The cats were relocated to sanctuaries throughout the United States.
Source: Press Enterprise - Jan 23, 2009
Update posted on Jan 24, 2009 - 8:43PM 
A former animal rescuer convicted of child endangerment and animal cruelty after authorities found decomposing tigers at his Riverside County home was sentenced Tuesday to two years in county jail and five years of probation.

John Weinhart, 62, was the operator of Tiger Rescue, an animal sanctuary in Colton where visitors could pay $20 to have pictures taken with cubs. He will receive credit for 204 days already served.

When animal control authorities raided his Glen Avon home in April 2003, they found 11 tiger and leopard cubs in the attic, two alligators in the bathtub and two tigers on the front porch. In a freezer, 58 dead tiger cubs were found alongside food and tranquilizers; about 30 more dead tigers were found decomposing on the property.

Weinhart's 8-year-old son was living at the home at the time, which led to the child endangerment charges.

"I felt that prison was the best protection for the animals, his son and the community," said Stephanie B. Weissman, the Riverside County deputy district attorney who prosecuted Weinhart.

Before he was sentenced, Weinhart told Judge Ronald L. Taylor that he had been overcommitted physically and mentally at the sanctuary, which led to the neglect of the animals.

"I was stressed with more tasks than I could manage," he said.

After the sentencing hearing, Weinhart's attorney said that having animal carcasses on a property is not illegal. "It shouldn't have been part of the case," said R. Addison Steele II.

Weinhart's wife, Marla Jean Smith, pleaded guilty to 63 counts of animal cruelty and child endangerment in January, saying she wanted to spare her son from having to testify against her.

Judy Doorbetakis, who volunteered at the sanctuary on weekends for three years, said Weinhart taught her a lot about animals.

"They've ruined that man," she said tearfully afterward. "He shouldn't go to jail at all. He's no criminal."

Michael Markarian, executive vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, said he would have preferred more jail time.

"We were pleased that some jail time was included," he said. "It sends a strong message that if you abuse animals, you don't get a slap on the wrist, you go to jail."

Taylor ordered that Weinhart not own, possess, care for or volunteer in a place with animals, and that he stay 50 yards away from exotic cats.

He is also to receive psychological counseling and attend anger management and parenting classes.
Source: Newsday - July 20, 2005
Update posted on Jul 20, 2005 - 7:31AM 
John Weinhart's sentencing hearing has been continued to July 18 at 1:30 in Department 52 of Riverside Superior Court at 4100 Main St.
Update posted on Jun 21, 2005 - 7:50AM 
John Weinhart, who was recently convicted on 56 felonies of child and animal abuse, will be back in court on Monday, June 20, 2005, at 8:30am. Tippi Hedren, who testified against him in his trial, will be there. We are urging everyone to write letters to ensure that he serves time in prison for the heinous crimes he has committed against the tigers who were in his care. Write to:

Judge Ronald Taylor
Riverside Criminal Courts Department
Hall of Justice
4100 Main Street
Riverside, California 92501
Update posted on Jun 4, 2005 - 2:30PM 
The former operator of an Inland tiger sanctuary, convicted last month of child endangerment and animal cruelty, was sent to state prison Tuesday for a mental-health evaluation.

Riverside County Judge Ronald Taylor delayed sentencing John Weinhart to give defense attorney Addison Steele a chance to file motions, including a request for a new trial. But the judge insisted that Weinhart be turned over to the Department of Corrections for an evaluation.

Weinhart, 62, was found guilty Feb. 22 on 56 of 61 charges leveled against him, including felony a child endangerment charge and 13 felony animal-cruelty counts.

He faces a maximum sentence of 14 years and six months in prison just on the felony convictions.

Over Weinhart's Attorney's objections, Taylor sent Weinhart to the Reception and Guidance Center at the California Institution for Men in Chino.

Noting Weinhart's heart condition and a health crisis that he experienced at Robert Presley Detention Center prior to being released on bail to await sentencing, Weinhart's Attorney pleaded with Taylor to allow his client to remain free.

Weinhart won't be sentenced until June 20 or until the Department of Corrections completes its evaluation, whichever comes first.

Weinhart's then-8-year-old son in his trash- and feces-strewn home, where two alligators languished in a bathtub. A juvenile tiger was chained on the patio of the home, and syringes and powerful animal tranquilizers, including PCP, were being stored in an unlocked refrigerator next to food and chocolate Easter candy.

Weinhart and his longtime partner, Marla Smith, were arrested and charged with 63 counts.

Smith, who entered guilty pleas to all counts before the start of the trial, was sentenced to180 days in custody and four years' probation earlier this month.
Source: The - March 22, 2005
Update posted on Mar 23, 2005 - 2:57PM 
Marla Smith, 49, of Riverside had pleaded guilty in a Jan. 25 plea bargain to one felony count of willful cruelty to a child, 16 felony counts of animal cruelty and 46 misdemeanor violations involving the care of animals. The deal with prosecutors called for 120 days in jail.

But Superior Court Judge Ronald Taylor decided Thursday that the defendant deserved more jail time, after considering court testimony from Smith's 10-year-old son and reviewing a probation report. The judge told Smith she could withdraw her plea and go to trial.

"She wishes to proceed with the 180 days," Smith attorney Regina Filippone said.

The judge said the jail time could be served on weekends, and he also placed her on four years' probation.

"I don't think it would be in (the child's) best interest to have Smith imprisoned for a significant amount of time. Counseling is the remedy here to help her improve her parenting skills," Taylor said.
Source: NC Times - March 12, 2005
Update posted on Mar 12, 2005 - 4:36PM 
A Riverside County jury convicted John Weinhart of child endangerment and animal cruelty charges today for keeping malnourished tigers and decomposing carcasses at his facility, and tranquilizers and live alligators within reach of his young son.

The convictions leave Weinhart, 62, subject to a maximum prison term of 36 years when he is sentenced March 22.

"Those were deplorable, filthy conditions," said jury forewoman Janet Jensen after the verdict was announced. "There were exposed needles in the refrigerator, a live tiger swiping outside the back door … that's a dangerous situation for a young boy to be around."

Stephanie Weissman, the Riverside County deputy district attorney who prosecuted Weinhart, said he deserved prison time.

"It was the combination of things that made for the dangerous condition - the drugs, the alligators, the tiger on the patio, the filth and the feces," Weissman said. "The totality of the circumstances were dangerous, and [the boy] testified he knew that."

In January, Weinhart's former partner, Marla Smith, pleaded guilty to all 63 counts against her, saying she couldn't bear forcing her son to testify against her. Judge Ronald Taylor said that Smith could face 120 days in jail and three years' probation when sentenced March 10.
Source: LA Times - Feb 22, 2005
Update posted on Feb 23, 2005 - 6:01AM 
The last seven tigers at the now-closed Tiger Rescue sanctuary in Colton will move to their new home near Stockton on Feb. 26, ending a 21-month ordeal that began when Weinhart was arrested on suspicion of mistreating exotic animals.
Source: San Bernardino Sun - Feb 16, 2005
Update posted on Feb 20, 2005 - 9:54AM 
Actress Tippi Hedren, operator of the Shambala Animal Preserve in Acton, testified in the tiger abuse trial of John Weinhart that she complained to federal authorities after seeing the squalid conditions at his Glen Avon compound.

"The Birds" star, testifying for the prosecution, said Tuesday that her 1998 visit was like "walking through a trash dump."

"I don't understand how anyone could have such little regard for these animals," she said, adding U.S. Department of Agriculture officials said there weren't enough inspectors to respond to her complaint.

Zoning problems forced Weinhart to move his compound from Glen Avon to Colton in 1999.

Weinhart, 62, is on trial for 16 felony animal cruelty counts, one count of felony child endangerment and 44 misdemeanors stemming from an April 2003 raid on his property. He allegedly mistreated 11 tiger and leopard cubs found in his attic, two alligators in a bathtub, two young tigers on a patio and several other animals.

Hedren said her visit in 1998 left such an indelible impression that she made room for a lion at her sanctuary to keep the animal from being sent to Weinhart's Tiger Rescue facility.

"I took the lion rather than allow him to go to Tiger Rescue," Hedren said.

California Department of Fish and Game agents and Riverside County animal control officers testified earlier that Weinhart's then-8-year-old son was found inside his trash-strewn home where the two alligators were in a bathtub, a juvenile tiger was chained on a patio and powerful animal tranquilizers, including PCP, were stored in an unlocked refrigerator.

Weinhart denied the allegations during four days of testimony, saying that he had never mistreated an animal during his more than 40 years working with exotic animals.

Hedren, the mother of actress Melanie Griffith, has operated the Shambala preserve for about 30 years. She said the facility houses about 70 big cats, including tigers, lions and leopards. Her visit to Weinhart's compound was in connection with her work with the American Sanctuary Association, which has developed a set of standards for animal sanctuaries and preserves.

"It was disturbing," Hedren said, adding she was shocked by the emaciated appearance of the cats, mounds of trash, feces, dead chickens and feathers.

Last month, Weinhart's partner pleaded guilty to child endangerment and animal cruelty charges. Marla Jean Smith, 49, entered the plea Jan. 24 out of concern for her 10-year-old son, a key prosecution witness, Smith's attorney Regina Filippone said.

Superior Court Judge Ronald Taylor said that as part of the plea agreement, Smith was expected to be sentenced March 10 to three years probation and up to 120 days in jail.

The judge said he also planned to bar Smith, who could have faced up to 16 years in prison if convicted, from owning or caring for any animal during her probation.
Source: San Luiis Obispo/Associated Press - Feb 16, 2005
Update posted on Feb 20, 2005 - 8:47AM 
Testifying in his trial for the first time Wednesday, former animal rescuer John Weinhart told of breeding near-extinct Javanese tigers and storing their dead cubs in his freezer.

Weinhart, former operator of the Tiger Rescue animal sanctuary in Colton, is charged with 61 counts of animal cruelty and child endangerment.

Riverside County authorities raided Weinhart's compound in Glen Avon in 2003, discovering 90 dead tigers, including 58 frozen cubs.

They also found Weinhart's 8-year-old son exposed to animal feces, full-grown tigers and two alligators in a bathtub. He was turned over to social workers.

On Wednesday, the German immigrant testified for several hours in his own defense, describing nearly 50 years of experience with exotic animals.

The jurors were shown pictures of seemingly undernourished or injured tigers as Weinhart explained the animals' conditions.

"We do everything humanly possible for them," he said.

Weinhart also told of a Javanese tiger he owned a decade after it was declared extinct. He said he kept the dead cubs in freezers so "at least a museum can have them on hand to show that they lived on the Earth at one time."

His attorney, R. Addison Steele II, said he hoped the jury focused "on the evidence that matters, not the frozen cubs." The charges deal only with live animals found on his property.

There was hardly any discussion in court Wednesday about how or why the animals sickened and died, but cross-examination by the prosecution is scheduled for today.

The jury of nine women and three men occasionally looked bored during the testimony. They did, however, laugh at a few of Weinhart's remarks, including his admission that, when traveling, he often sneaked a favored tiger, Nemo, into his hotel room for the night.

Essentially self-taught, Weinhart kept and trained exotic cats for Las Vegas acts, circus performances and, briefly, the San Diego Wild Animal Park, according to his testimony.

He said he introduced Las Vegas performers Siegfried & Roy to their first trained tiger and worked as a wild animal handler for TV shows such as "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Green Acres."

Weinhart's partner, Marla Smith, 49, pleaded guilty to the charges last month so that her 10-year-old son would not have to testify against her.

If convicted, Weinhart faces a maximum sentence of 16 years and eight months in prison.
Source: LA Times - Feb 10, 2005
Update posted on Feb 11, 2005 - 1:34AM 
A woman accused of keeping dozens of tigers in horrific conditions at her home and allowing her then 8-year-old son near alligators and big cats pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and child endangerment.

Marla Jean Smith, 49, and her partner, John Weinhart, 62, were each charged with 17 felony counts and 46 misdemeanor counts, including animal cruelty and illegal breeding.

Smith entered a plea Monday before her trial was to begin because she did not want her son to testify against her as a prosecution witness, said her attorney, Regina Filippone.

Smith is scheduled to be sentenced March 10 to three years probation and up to 120 days in jail. She could have received up to 16 years in prison if convicted. She is also likely to be barred from owning or caring for any animal during her probation.
Source: Kansas City Star
Update posted on Jan 25, 2005 - 3:33PM 
Graphic photos of decaying tiger carcasses and dead frozen tiger cubs will be at the center of the prosecution's case today when a Glen Avon animal sanctuary operator is scheduled to go on trial on animal cruelty and child endangerment charges.

John Weinhart and his partner, Marla Smith, were charged with the crimes after Riverside County authorities raided his home, which doubled as a wild animal compound, and reported finding the 58 frozen cubs, dozens of larger tiger carcasses and several malnourished animals on the premises.

The child endangerment charge is for allegedly exposing their son, then 8, to unsanitary conditions, as well as two alligators they kept in a bathtub and grown tigers roaming the yard.

Weinhart also operated Tiger Rescue, an animal sanctuary in Colton, and San Bernardino County authorities continue to press their case against him for alleged mistreatment of animals there.

In the Glen Avon case last week, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Ronald Taylor ruled that prosecutors would be allowed to show the jury dozens of explicit photographs of the dead animals, as well as the videotape that county authorities shot during their raid April 2003.

Attorneys for Weinhart and Smith had said the images would unfairly inflame the jurors and sensationalize the case, which is why they wanted to keep them from the jury's view.

"Short of providing our jurors barf bags, why subject them to this?" Regina Filippone, Smith's attorney, had argued.

Among the scenes photographed are a tiger's decomposed frame, a pair of dead tiger cubs with their heads resting on frost in a chest freezer, and a pair of tiger paws tied together by a rope.Deputy Dist. Atty. Stephanie Weissman said the carnage stunned authorities who were responding to a tip that one mistreated tiger and two alligators were at the compound. The alligators were found sloshing inside a bathtub in Weinhart's home, authorities said.

Weinhart's attorney, R. Addison Steele II, told the judge that when a tiger or cub died on the property, Weinhart would throw lime over the body in an effort to destroy any diseases or parasites, or he would freeze a cub's body in anticipation of a post-mortem examination.

The lime was used, Steele said, as part of a business venture in bleaching and selling the tigers' bones to collectors.

"I'll bring a [tiger] skull into court to show that it's a process," Steele said.

Both defendants' attorneys said the manner in which Weinhart and Smith disposed of and stored the dead animals in Glen Avon was not illegal and did not endanger their son.

"[The boy] is a farm kid who's grown up in rural Glen Avon," Steele said in court. "He's grown up around animals, exotic animals. He knows animals die…. A skeleton is not dangerous to a child. If anything, it's educational."

In addition to the animal cruelty charges, Weinhart is also charged with failing to maintain a program of disease prevention and parasite control. Prosecutor Weissman also said chicken kept in the same freezer that held the tiger cubs was for the family's consumption, which the defense denied.
Source: LA Times - Jan 24, 2005
Update posted on Jan 24, 2005 - 1:42AM 
A judge on Thursday turned aside a defense request to move the animal-cruelty trial of an Inland-area tiger rescuer out of Riverside County.

And in another victory for the prosecution, Riverside County Judge Ronald Taylor said he will allow into evidence videotape showing images of emaciated lions and tigers that were housed at Tiger Rescue, John Weinhart's now-defunct Colton animal sanctuary.

Taylor's decisions came during arguments on pretrial motions leading up to the long-anticipated trial that is expected to start next week.

Weinhart and Smith have pleaded not guilty.

Weinhart, clean-shaven and shorn of his trademark ponytail, declined to comment after court Thursday, as did Smith.

The eight-minute tape, taken by U.S. Department of Agriculture investigators during a November 2002 inspection, also showed a tiger made lame by an overgrown claw protruding into his footpad and a pig with overgrown hooves.

Prosecutor Stephanie Weissman argued that the tape illustrated that the condition of the animals found at Weinhart's Riverside County compound, including cubs that were malnourished and dehydrated and a goat with such badly overgrown hooves that it walked on its knees, was no mistake or accident.

"It shows a pattern of care," Weissman said. "Animals that aren't being cared for the way they should."

Smith's attorney, Regina Filippone, who acknowledged that the tape "made me ill," wondered what purpose would be served, other than to prejudice the jury, by showing the tape.

"I can't figure out what it proves," Filippone said.

Taylor disagreed, saying a possible defense will be that the lack of care for the animals was a mistake or accident. The videotape, Taylor said, proves otherwise.

The tape can be used to question character witnesses who are expected to testify to Weinhart's love for and expertise at caring for exotic felines.

In denying the change of venue motion filed by Deputy Public Defender Addison Steele, Taylor said he was convinced Weinhart's and Smith's case would be heard by a fair and impartial jury despite the intense local and national news coverage the case has generated.

While agreeing that "there are many people out there who love animals who could not serve as jurors," Taylor said problematic potential jurors would be weeded out during initial questioning.

Weinhart is also facing trial in San Bernardino County on misdemeanor charges of improperly caring for tigers at his Colton animal sanctuary.

That trial has been put on hold until the Riverside County case is adjudicated.
Source: Press Enterprise - Jan 13, 2005
Update posted on Jan 14, 2005 - 9:43AM 
Weinhart's Riverside County trial is scheduled for January 5, 2005
Update posted on Oct 29, 2004 - 4:58PM 
New trial date is April 19
Update posted on Apr 5, 2004 - 5:04AM 
The jury trial has been yet posponed again, and has been rescheduled for February 23, 2004. The court is located at 4100 Main St. in Riverside.
Update posted on Jan 26, 2004 - 11:43PM 
A San Bernardino judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Weinhart. Weinhart's lawsuit challenged the state's authority to remove his tigers and other animals. He argued he should be allowed to care for them until animal cruelty charges filed against him are resolved. San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Tara Reilly dismissed Weinhart's suit after ruling that he had not raised a legal question which could be resolved with a trial.

Read more: NBC4-TV
Update posted on Aug 24, 2003 - 1:41PM 
Today was the last day of Weinhart's available time to comply with the requirement of removing the cats from the state of California. As per the law, if Weinhart is unwilling or unable to move them out of California by the deadline, the state is authorized to find new owners for them.

Because Weinhart had not even attempted to move a single cat within the time he was granted, his lawyers once again petitioned today for a temporary restraining order to prevent the state from moving the cats. If the temporary restraining order was granted, Weinhart would be in a position to insist that the condition of his bond which prohibits him from providing care for or physically possessing any animals be lifted to allow him to care for the cats, since the efforts of Chuck Traisi and the Fund for Animals can not continue indefinitely, leaving the cats with no one to care for them.

San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Tara Reilly denied the temporary restraining order, allowing the state to begin moving the cats to permanent sanctuary homes as soon as transport can be arranged.

Judge Reilly said relocating the animals to other facilities is key to their survival.

"I cannot leave the animals there," Reilly said. "If I do, I am guaranteeing their demise. It sounds to me that something has to be done very quickly in order to save the cats."

Reilly did require that state officials keep track of the relocated cats so that Weinhart can get them back if he is allowed to care for animals again.

Read more: The Press-Enterprise
Update posted on Jul 21, 2003 - 11:55PM 
Weinhart's companion, Marla Smith, has also been bound over for all 63 counts. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison. Weinhart's lease with the city of Colton for the facility has expired - the deadline for him to remove the cats rom the state of California remains July 21st.

Read more: The Press Enterprise
Update posted on Jul 17, 2003 - 10:25PM 
The pre-trial hearing for Weinhart is over - all 63 counts are standing and will be prosecuted, with not a single charge being dropped.

Read more: The Press Enterprise

Paul Dickerson is the Riverside DA who has worked extremely hard on making sure that Weinhart is fully prosecuted. He has invested a tremendous amount of time into this case and his hard work paid off on during the July 11 pre-trial hearing, where it was ruled that Weinhart would be tried for all 63 counts, 17 of which are felonies. Anyone wishing to thank Mr. Dickerson for all of the effort he has put into this prosecution, and congratulate him on the July 11 pre-trial victory can reach him at the contact information below.

Paul Dickerson
Superior Court of California, County of Riverside
4100 Main Street
Riverside, CA 92501

Sandra Stokley ( is a reporter with the Press Enterprise newspaper and she has been following this case every step of the way. Her coverage has helped keep the public aware of this situation, and her accurate and fair media coverage has been beautifully handled.

Please take just a moment to e-mail Paul Dickerson and Sandra Stokley and thank them for all their hard work.
Update posted on Jul 12, 2003 - 2:34AM 
veterinary professor testified Wednesday that at least four cubs found in a freezer at an Inland tiger rescuer's Glen Avon property starved to death.

Deryck H. Read, a professor at UC Davis' School of Veterinary Medicine, said the absence of fat reserves and the condition of the thymus gland pointed to starvation as a cause of death. Three of the cubs were tigers; one was a leopard.

Read's testimony came on the first day of John Weinhart and Marla Smith's preliminary hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to hold them for trial. The couple face dozens of animal cruelty charges stemming from an April 22 raid by state Department of Fish and Game agents at the property.

Defense attorney Scott Kirkendall suggested that the cubs may have been the offspring of a malnourished mother, but Read said no.

"There is no way these kittens could have been born without fat reserves," Read said.

Testimony by state and Riverside County animal welfare officials on Wednesday revisited the chaos and squalor they found during the raid.

"The residence was filthy," Rick Fischer, a California Department of Fish and Game warden, said, describing Weinhart's residence. "Garbage was strewn about, animal feces was on the floor, and there was a strong odor of animal feces throughout the home."

Agents also found 11 tiger and leopard cubs in an attic space, frozen cubs in a freezer, animal tranquilizer and hypodermic needles in a refrigerator and two alligators in a bathtub in Weinhart's home, Fischer said.

Fischer said he also encountered a young boy who identified himself as Weinhart's and Smith's son.

Weinhart and Smith are charged with felony child endangerment, 16 counts of felony animal cruelty and 46 misdemeanor animal cruelty counts.

Fish and Game agents seized the 11 newborn cubs, two juvenile tigers, and two alligators. They also found 61 dead cubs in freezers on the property.

As testimony continues this morning in the preliminary hearing, Weinhart is due in a San Bernardino courtroom seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the forcible relocation of his collection of exotic big cats housed at Tiger Rescue in Colton.

Last month, the Department of Fish and Game gave Weinhart 30 days to find new homes for the estimated 70 tigers, lions and leopards at Tiger Rescue or face having Fish and Game relocate them.

Fish and Game is due to begin relocating the animals July 21.

Fischer and Dennis White of Riverside County's Animal Control Services, testified Wednesday that the scene outside of Weinhart's home was equally grim, with rotting animal carcasses and bones strewn about the property, tiger hides stored in a trailer and mounds of trash and animal waste everywhere.

Gina Filippone, Smith's attorney, in cross-examination, got Fischer to admit that there was no proof that Smith owned or cared for any of the animals found at the Glen Avon property.

Filippone said that Smith lives in a separate house on the property with her son by Weinhart.

But Fischer testified that when he saw Smith at Tiger Rescue, the Colton tiger sanctuary run by Weinhart, she was handling cubs, taking money and was very knowledgeable about the operation.

Read More: The Press-Enterprise
Update posted on Jul 11, 2003 - 12:10AM 
John Weinhart says he is prepared to seek legal action to block efforts by state officials to relocate the 70 or so tigers, lions and leopards housed at his Colton sanctuary.

In a letter to the licensing branch of the California Department of Fish and Game, Gary S. Redinger, who identifies himself as Weinhart's attorney, said he is prepared to seek a temporary restraining order if officials attempt to remove the animals.

Weinhart is facing criminal charges in both San Bernardino and Riverside counties stemming from allegations of improperly caring for animals at the Tiger Rescue sanctuary in Colton and at his home in Riverside County.

He has entered pleas of not guilty in both cases.

A preliminary hearing is set for Wednesday for the Riverside case, and a trial readiness conference is scheduled for Aug. 5 in the San Bernardino case.

Weinhart has declined all requests for interviews since April 22, when state Fish and Game agents raided his Glen Avon home and seized 11 tiger and leopard cubs and two alligators.

Redinger did not return several calls for comment.

Last month, Fish and Game officials ordered Weinhart to find new accommodations for the exotic cats at Tiger Rescue by July 15. That deadline has since been extended to July 21.

If Weinhart does not comply, Fish and Game officials said they will relocate the animals.

"We have a letter from a lawyer, but that doesn't mean we are going to sway from our course of action," said Mike McBride, assistant chief for the Department of Fish and Game in Chino Hills.

In his letter, Redinger says Weinhart is exempt from the California Fish and Game Code because he possesses a valid U.S. Department of Agriculture business license.

USDA spokesman Jim Rogers said Weinhart's license allows him to exhibit the animals. The federal agency also is investigating Tiger Rescue, he said.

Rogers declined to comment specifically on Weinhart's case but said that, in general, state laws are not trumped by a USDA license.

Prosecutors in San Bernardino and Riverside counties said Redinger's letter will have no impact on their cases. "That's a civil issue between Weinhart and Fish and Game," said Paul Dickerson, Riverside deputy district attorney.

Read More: The Press-Enterprise
Update posted on Jul 4, 2003 - 3:41PM 
June 24, Weinhart removed all of the goats, llamas, alpaca, burros, and sheep while we were on the property. Later that evening while we were gone, he took the camel as well. The animals that remain are the 54 big cats, the pot-bellied pigs, the emus and ostriches, the cow, the fallow deer, the pea-hen, the chickens and the dogs.

We received news that Weinhart filed for and got an extension that pushes his deadline for removing the animals to the 21st of this month. His lawyer made it clear that if The Fund for Animals attempts to remove any of the animals, he will file an injunction.
Update posted on Jul 3, 2003 - 9:20PM 
As of last Tues (Jun 17), Weinhart has 30 days to find a new home for the animals, or euthanize them.
Update posted on Jun 21, 2003 - 4:29PM 
We have an editorial posted about our own experiences working to rehabilitate these cats as part of our efforts to assist the Fund for Animals. Click here to read it.
Update posted on Jun 13, 2003 - 6:44AM 
The Fund for Animals reported today that the tiger and leopard cubs are recovering well and in excellent condition at the organization's Wildlife Rehabilitation Center near San Diego. The Fund's staff assisted state wildlife and animal control investigators in confiscating the cubs. Read more at the Fund for Animals website.

See photos of the rescued tiger and leopard cubs at:
The Fund for Animals
Update posted on May 1, 2003 - 11:09AM 


« CA State Animal Cruelty Map
« More cases in San Bernardino County, CA

Note: Classifications and other fields should not be used to determine what specific charges the suspect is facing or was convicted of - they are for research and statistical purposes only. The case report and subsequent updates outline the specific charges. Charges referenced in the original case report may be modified throughout the course of the investigation or trial, so case updates, when available, should always be considered the most accurate reflection of charges.

For more information regarding classifications and usage of this database, please visit the database notes and disclaimer.