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Wednesday, Apr 16, 2008County: Crawford
» Kurt Lino
» Holly Reebman
Case Updates: 1 update(s) available
With Pennsylvania State Police as back-up and a warrant in hand, Humane Society officers from Crawford County seized nine cats, three rabbits, four adult dogs and three puppies from a home in Summit Township Wednesday.
"We have no idea where the owner of the home is," said Brent Rusek of the Humane Society. "But if they are found guilty of basic neglect of animals, they will face a $750 fine and 30 days in jail for each count, or one per animal."
The owners of the home have not been identified.
According to Ruthie Wallace, John Gaunt and Joseph Williams, who are neighbors of the home at 12896 Gordon Road, the seizure of the animals has been a long time coming.
Neighbors said that it's been months since anyone has resided in the home, yet they continued to keep the animals locked inside.
"We only saw the woman stop by for a few minutes on Sundays," Wallace said of someone who had made visits apparently to feed and water the animals. "Then, after a while, it wasn't even once a week."
The neighbors became so disgusted by the sounds coming from across the road that they decided to take action.
"We could hear the dogs and puppies crying like babies over there because they were so hungry," Wallace said. "So we found an open window and dropped a few bowls inside, and so we've been feeding them."
It wasn't just the fact that the animals weren't being fed; Williams said the conditions inside were just as big of a concern.
"The inside of the house - the smell - it was overwhelming!" according to Williams. "And when we first began to feed them, they were as thin as sheets of paper and went after the food as if they hadn't eaten in six years."
Wallace said she's called the Humane Society numerous times since last fall.
"It's taken multiple complaints since November to have the poor things removed," Wallace said. "I just pray to God that (the pets' owners) will never get those animals back!"
"One time the lady who delivers the mail left me a note that said, 'Ruthie, they're dying inside the house. Can you do something?,' " Wallace said. "I told the other neighbors that they should call too, but I don't know if any of them ever did."
Wallace said she didn't want to "get anyone in trouble," but she was becoming more and more concerned for the animals as time went on.
"Those poor little things were so helpless inside." she said. "We couldn't just sit by and do nothing."
|Two former Summit Township residents were found guilty Thursday of 20 counts each of cruelty to animals in what humane officials have referred to as the worst such case they've seen in Crawford County.|
The 60-day jail sentences handed down to each defendant reflected that severity, making it the stiffest penalty he's heard of for any Crawford County animal cruelty case, one local official said.
Kurt Lino and Holly Reebman, who represented themselves at a Thursday hearing, were charged in April after Crawford County Humane Society officers raided the 12896 Gordon Road home near Conneaut Lake and seized 10 cats, three rabbits, four adult dogs and three puppies after multiple complaints from neighbors that the animals weren't being fed.
Ruthie Wallace, a neighbor who called in multiple complaints, said she could hear the animals "crying like babies" at night because they were so hungry.
Appearing in front of Linesville Area Magisterial District Judge Rita Marwood, Lino initially asked for a continuance, but it was denied.
"I feel uncomfortable representing myself, and so does she," Lino said, referring to Reebman. But the request was denied, with Marwood stating that it should have come earlier.
Lino testified that he and Reebman had lived in the home with the animals, but when he was sent to jail for non-payment of child support, Reebman, who was pregnant at the time, moved to Erie.
While entrusted with the care of the animals, Lino said Reebman had been returning every two days or so to care for the animals and that they were being fed and watered. After his release from jail, Lino said he went to live with Reebman in a hotel in Erie and that they couldn't have animals.
Lino told the court that the animals were being fed and cared for and called them "all healthy." In response to Crawford County Humane Officer Brent Rusek's testimony that the animals were "sneezing and wheezing" and were suffering from upper-respiratory problems, Lino said, "animals get that."
Three witnesses testified for the prosecution, including Shirley Rebecca Myers Osbourne who works for the U.S. Postal Service. Osbourne said based on the frequency that the mail was being picked up, she guessed that Reebman had been coming to the home a couple of times each week. But gradually she said the mail was gathered only once every week to 10 days.
Osbourne said she called Sherman Allen, a county commissioner, because when she got out of the delivery vehicle she could hear "whining and crying" and animals "scratching at the door something terrible" from the shed next to the garage.
Assistant District Attorney Craig Howe showed the court a digital slideshow containing about 60 photos of the conditions inside the home and a shed that was alongside the garage.
Rusek told the court the animals were living in "deplorable" conditions and that inside the home "everything was moist to the touch" from urine.
The floors were soaked, as was all of the furniture, he said, and "you couldn't stay inside the house" for more than a few minutes. Also, a mattress, which he said was on the floor, fell apart in his hands when he tried to lift it up.
Rusek said in addition to the very strong ammonia-based odor, there was no access to light nor ventilation in the home. It was obvious, he said, that by the claw marks and piles of chipped paint on the floors, the animals had been trying to get out of the home.
When Lino took the witness stand in his own defense, he told the court that "the pictures say everything." He said that the "county didn't want bags of feces" piled outside of the home, and so "under the circumstances, we did the best we could for our animals."
Reebman, who was crying and shaking during her testimony, said, "We never intended this to happen," and described her, Lino, their children and the 20 animals that they left behind in the home as "one big family."
After declaring Lino and Reebman guilty on all 20 counts of animal cruelty, Marwood ordered the couple to make restitution of $6,567.22 to the Crawford County Humane Society for costs it had incurred for room and board, as well as fees associated with veterinarian care and the April 16 seizing of the animals. Each was also ordered to serve 60 days in jail and to pay court costs. In addition to the forfeiture of all 20 animals, neither is permitted to own animals in Crawford County for 1,800 days.
Rusek, who has worked seven years as a humane officer, said the penalties are the worst he's ever heard of for a cruelty case in this county.
Rusek was "happy with the verdict" and, if Lino and Reebman decide not to appeal Marwood's decision in the next 30 days, said the animals will be put up for adoption.
|Source: Meadville Tribune - May 30, 2008|
Update posted on May 30, 2008 - 2:37PM
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