Case Snapshot
Case ID: 17198
Classification: Hoarding
Animal: cat
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Person(s) in animal care
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Prosecutor(s): Kenneth Park
Defense(s): Lane Bennett, Nicholas Aemisegger
Judge(s): David Ortley

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

Wednesday, Dec 22, 2010

County: Flathead

Charges: Felony CTA
Disposition: Convicted

» Cheryl L. Perkins - Dismissed (Conditional)
» Edwin Criswell

Case Updates: 10 update(s) available

A northwestern Montana couple involved in the largest animal hoarding case in Idaho history were charged with animal cruelty Thursday after authorities found more than 100 cats living in their two small feces-filled trailers last month.

Edwin and Cheryl Criswell face felony aggravated animal cruelty after police seized the cats Dec. 22 in Marion, Mont. They were booked into Flathead County Jail on Friday. The maximum sentence is up to two years in jail and a $2,500 fine.

It's not the first time the Criswells have faced animal cruelty charges.

In September 2006, they were convicted of misdemeanor animal cruelty in the largest animal hoarding case in Idaho history.

More than 430 cats were seized from their then-home in Blanchard, Idaho. More than half those cats were euthanized "due to severe illness, disease and suffering," the Humane Society of the United States said in 2006. The Criswells were fined $1,000 and placed on unsupervised probation for two years. They were also forbidden from having more than 20 pets in their care.

Many called the Criswells animal hoarders, but they maintained they were animal lovers.

"All the animals here had the best care, the most love of any animal," Cheryl Criswell told The Spokesman-Review in September 2006.

The couple moved to Bonners Ferry, Idaho, where they lived with 40 to 50 cats in three trailers on rented property. In early 2010, neighbors started to complain to police.

Deputies monitored the situation for several months but never seized the animals or filed charges because the animals had food and water, Richard Stephens, chief deputy for the Boundary County sheriff, told The Spokesman-Review in February.

In the most recent case, 116 cats "including two litters of kittens" were taken from the Criswells' Montana home, according to court documents filed in Flathead County District Court on Jan. 4.

The cats were examined by a veterinarian, who found only nine in good health. The rest had numerous medical problems, including blindness, severe dental problems and upper respiratory infections, said Mimi Beadles, executive director of the Flathead Spay and Neuter Task Force, which has possession of the cats. Most of the cats have not been spayed or neutered.

Court records say the stench in the trailers was so strong officers had to wear self-contained breathing equipment to go inside. Snowplows and tow trucks were brought to the remote area to remove the snowed-in, cat-filled trailers.

Volunteers have poured in since the task force took possession of the cats. Beadles said it takes 60 to 65 volunteer hours a day just to keep the cats' living quarters clean. They have been working every day, she said, including Christmas.

"We just have a whole army that comes in every day and cleans them," she said. "They have done an outstanding job."

Many of the volunteers have already offered to adopt cats.

In December, the Criswells asked the task force for help; their trailers had been snowed in and they could not access or afford food and water for the cats or themselves. The trailers had no heat, Beadles said, and were a chilly 37 degrees.

Beadles first met the Criswells last summer. When she saw them again in December, they had lost a lot of weight, she said.

"I think one more week in that trailer and they would have died," she said. "They would have died before the cats did."

She said the Criswells still think they "only had 75 cats," and see nothing wrong with their living conditions.

"They are living in the same conditions as these cats," Beadles said. "They don't see the filth in there as an issue. They honestly believe they are taking care of these animals. They think (the cats) would die without them."

She said she does not think any of the cats will have to be euthanized. Meanwhile, the animals have had no problem adjusting to their new, more spacious environment.

"They are the nicest cats despite the way they have had to live," she said. "They can play, which they're supposed to be doing."

Case Updates

Director of the Flathead County Spay and Neuter task force says recent statements made by Ed Criswell, who is charged with animal cruelty, are completely untrue.

In an interview over a week ago, Criswell told Montana's News Station that he and wife Cheryl have filed an appeal regarding their recent conviction on felony aggravated animal cruelty charges.

The couple is accused of hoarding dozens of cats.

Director Mimi Beadles says Criswell's statements about the Spay and Neuter task force euthanizing their cats was completely false.

She says they only put one of the over a hundred animals down, because it's kidney was failing.

Beadles says the jury got this case right the first time.

"You know when you look at the case and all the evidence against them, you know obviously it fit every criteria for animal abuse. They did not have adequate food and water, they had no heat, and the unsanitary living conditions were abysmal. And they had no veterinary care, I think the jury was absolutely correct in convicting them, I'm sure they don't want to pay restitution."

The Montana Supreme Court has until April 14th to make a decision on the Criswell's appeal.
Source: - Mar 22, 2012
Update posted on Mar 22, 2012 - 7:18PM 
In the presence of more than a dozen volunteers from the Flathead Spay & Neuter Task Force who helped take care of their more than 100 cats after they and the animals were rescued from snowbound trailers last December, Cheryl and Edwin Criswell were sentenced for their felony convictions of aggravated cruelty to animals Thursday evening.

District Court Judge David Ortley listened to testimony and arguments for more than two hours before handing down the sentence, suggestions for which varied widely between the prosecution and defense.

Deputy County Attorney Kenneth Park argued for, among other things, restitution of more than $400,000 in boarding fees for the Flathead County Animal Shelter. That amount was based on the agency's boarding fee of $25 per day per cat.

From the perspective of defense attorneys Nicholas Aemisegger and Lane Bennett, not only should the Criswells not have to pay that amount, they should have been allowed to keep four of the cats that had been taken. The attorneys also said the guinea pig and puppy the Criswells obtained after their animal cruelty conviction should be returned, even though owning those animals was a violation of the terms of the couple's release, and that another elderly dog, which they had been allowed to keep, should stay with them as well.

Ortley's judgment landed somewhere in between.

Lacking any prior felony convictions, Cheryl Criswell was eligible for a deferred sentence. Ortley gave her a two-year sentence to be deferred for six years to allow the state the longest amount of time possible to monitor her behavior and actions. He also ordered her to continue with her mental health assessments and treatment at her cost and complete cognitive principles and restructuring at the discretion of her probation officer.

"I don't doubt for a minute, Mrs. Criswell, that you at all times were operating under the best of intentions," Ortley said, "but I have no doubt that you were operating in a fog and had no appreciation for what the animals under your care went through."

Cheryl Criswell was also ordered to complete up to 200 hours of community service, also at the discretion of her probation officer. Ortley diverted from sentencing suggestions in the presentence investigation report, however, and left open the option of her completing community service hours with an agency that involves the care of animals, should one accept her. He extended the same opportunity to her husband.

Edwin Criswell, who has a past felony conviction, was not eligible for a deferred sentence, and so was given a two-year suspended sentence with 25 days credit for time served. He was ordered to complete 200 hours of community service.

Each was ordered to pay $160 in court fees and surcharges, a $500 public defender fee, $100 in prosecution fees and $270 in mediation fees. They were ordered to jointly pay $14,684.47 in restitution to the Flathead County Animal Shelter for cat food, litter, outside veterinary care and other supplies.

Both were ordered to seek and maintain employment, but in Cheryl Criswell's case a stipulation was added that she do so as she is physically and mentally able.

Both were barred from operating or having any involvement in any kind of animal rescue operation. They were also barred from baby-sitting anyone else's animals at any time.

The big question on the minds of attendees at the hearing, as well as the Criswells, however, was whether they would be able to have any other animals.

Ortley said they would be allowed to keep the elderly dog they already have and could each have one companion animal that must be spayed or neutered. Before either is allowed to have a companion animal, it must be determined that they have a proper location to house the animals and the ability to care for them.

He also ruled that those companion animals could not be any of the cats that were taken from them.

"These cats have suffered enough at the hands of the Criswells. They need to go to new homes," Ortley said.
Source: - Oct 20, 2011
Update posted on Oct 21, 2011 - 12:14AM 
A couple found guilty of aggravated cruelty to animals appeared in Flathead District Court Tuesday to learn the fate of the remainder of their cats seized by Flathead County.

Ed and Cheryl Criswell appeared in court on a motion filed by Prosecutor Rusty Park.
The motion requested that Judge David Ortley turn over custody of the 25 remaining cats to the county so they may be adopted out.

Park told the judge the county is already paying nearly $1,000 a month for their care. However, Judge Ortley declined to make any decision on the animals until October 20th when the Criswells will be sentenced.
Source: - Oct 4, 2011
Update posted on Oct 6, 2011 - 10:39AM 
A Marion couple, found guilty of animal cruelty, is back in jail tonight after violating a judge's order. NBC Montana told you earlier this month, how a Flathead County jury found Ed and Cheryl Criswell guilty of felony animal cruelty.

Officers arrested the two in January for hoarding 117 cats in their two trailers. The judge released the Criswells from jail to await sentencing, under the order that they keep no animals at their home.

New facts in the case show that, yesterday, a neighbor called authorities to report more animals at the Criswells' home. A search warrant turned up two dogs and a guinea pig.

Now, the Criswells will have to remain behind bars until a judge hands down their sentence.

That is scheduled for October 20th.
Source: - Sep 20, 2011
Update posted on Sep 20, 2011 - 11:42PM 
A Marion couple has been found guilty of animal cruelty following a one week trial.

Closing arguments wrapped up Thursday night in the trial of Ed and Cheryl Criswell, the Marion couple accused of hoarding more than 100 cats back in 2010, and each faced charges of aggravated animal cruelty, felonies.

Earlier this week in the trial, prosecutors uncovered charges the couple faced while living in Idaho.

There they operated an animal rescue facility but could not financially support the costs the operation endured. They were shut down and later charged.

Ed Criswell testified that he and his wife tried their best to adopt the cats out because the financial burdens of caring for them was too much. The cats were handed over to the Flathead County Spay and Neuter Task Force.

The couple were escorted out of the courtroom and their sentencing is scheduled for October 20th.
Source: - Sep 9, 2011
Update posted on Sep 9, 2011 - 8:48AM 
Edwin Criswell took the stand Wednesday to begin telling the story behind his and his wife Cheryl's involvement with cat rescues.

The Criswells are on trial for aggravated animal cruelty, based on the seizure of 116 cats west of Kalispell last December.

Edwin Criswell first took a job working with Cheryl at her Camelot Sanctuary in Blanchard, Idaho, in September 2001. His pay consisted of room, board and necessities such as food.

Originally tasked with cleaning the 110 litter boxes, within three weeks he was given the title of director and asked to solicit donations.

The sanctuary -- funded by Cheryl's parents and another business partner and located on her father's land -- consisted of seven mobile homes, two of which housed its employees.

The sanctuary housed roughly 125 cats when he arrived, but they soon rescued 150 cats from Spokane, all of which had a feline herpes virus. At that point, the sanctuary went through 2,500 pounds of cat food each month.

When asked by defense attorney Nicholas Aemisegger if they ever had all the money they needed to effectively run the sanctuary, Edwin said "no."

"It would have taken millions and millions of dollars to take care of that kind of animals," he said.

The sanctuary's problems continued to compound, with the well pump going out along with decreasing donations. When repaired, their water tested at six times the acceptable level of lead and three times the acceptable level of nitrates.

Criswell also said diseases among the cats were always a problem because they took in the worst of the worst. Police stopped at the sanctuary 27 times due to complaints, although Criswell said none were valid.

Then, when Cheryl's father died, they had no way to pay their bills and went into foreclosure on the land.

The only response they received when they began seeking help was the Humane Society of the United States. Edwin said the society first offered help but returned with law enforcement to shut them down because they had more than they could handle.

The Criswells were taken to court, where they were eventually allowed to keep only 20 of their cats because, according to Edwin Criswell, they didn't want the couple starting another sanctuary.

More than 400 cats were seized from the Criswells in Bonner County, Idaho, in 2006, leading to misdemeanor convictions and suspended jail sentences.

"Everything we had was gone, our whole life," he said. "We were never allowed to come back with any of the animals."

After being homeless for four years, moving from campground to campground in Idaho, the couple had accumulated 75 cats as well as "a lot of birds," Edwin said. They chose to move to Montana because Cheryl had a sister in Kalispell. Edwin also has family in town but said they don't talk.

While living off the $674 per month Cheryl receives in disability payments and the $300 to $400 per month Edwin made doing yard work and chopping and selling wood, they put up flyers asking for help and for people to adopt or temporarily house some of the cats. They got few responses.

The trial will reconvene at 8:30 a.m. today, when Edwin will resume his testimony. His wife also is expected to testify.

They also put ads in the Mountain Trader, from which they received only two requests, one of which was for a type of cat they didn't have. They wouldn't allow the other individual to adopt a cat because "we couldn't verify their ability to take care of it," Edwin said.

The trial will reconvene at 8:30 a.m. today, when Edwin will resume his testimony. His wife also is expected to testify.

In Montana, a felony aggravated animal cruelty conviction carries a maximum penalty of two years with the Montana State Department of Corrections and a fine of $2,500.
Source: - Sep 7, 2011
Update posted on Sep 8, 2011 - 1:02AM 
Mediations for a Marion couple accused of hoarding over 100 cats in two small trailers aren't going to help in their animal cruelty case. Now they are heading to trial next month.

Flathead County prosecutors sat down with Edwin and Cheryl Criswell and their lawyer on Wednesday in an effort to avoid going to trial, but those efforts failed.

The couple continues to deny they did any wrong doing by having possessions of the cats, some of them with pneumonia, severe conjunctivitis and other respiratory illnesses.

The couple claims they were an animal rescue operation. The trial is set to begin on September 6th in Flathead District Court.
Source: - Aug 24, 2011
Update posted on Aug 25, 2011 - 10:46AM 
Back in December, animal wardens seized over 100 cats from a remote location in Marion. Animal Cruelty charges are pending for Cheryl and Edwin Criswell, meanwhile The Flathead County Spay and Neuter Task Force is spending hundreds of dollars still caring for the cats.

The county wants the Criswell's to relinquish control so that they can now start to be adopted.

The Criswells want to keep anywhere from 15 to 45 of their 100 cats that are currently housed in the task force shelter but the county says they will not have any of the cats back in their possession.

The Criswells are charged with cruelty to animals and aggravated animal cruelty. Because of the crowded and poor conditions the cats were living in, one was put down, 2 cats are blind in both eyes due to conjunctivitis and 6 have only one eye. 5 cats had to get surgery to remove teeth due to an immune disorder.

The task force had to purchase a trailer for $500 to specifically accommodate the Criswell's cats. Flathead County pays for food and litter for the cats, which should be paid in restitution costs by the Criswells.

Until the Criswells release control over the animals it will cost the Spay and Neuter Task $150 a day to take care of them.
Source: - Mar 30, 2011
Update posted on Mar 31, 2011 - 1:24PM 
The couple arrested and charged with felony aggravated animal cruelty after more than 100 cats were found inside two trailers near Marion in December pleaded innocent in Flathead County District Court Thursday.

Edwin and Cheryl Criswell entered their pleas to District Judge David Ortley, who was asked by Cheryl Criswell's attorney to consider allowing her to visit the cats.

About 112 of the animals are being housed at the Flathead Spay and Neuter Task Force, where a trailer has been remodeled to hold them. They were taken from two dilapidated trailers described as "coated with feces" Dec. 22 and were suffering from neglect and a number of health issues, according to court documents.

"The Criswells are trying to go out there and visit the cats," said Deputy County Attorney Kenneth Park, who asked that they be barred from doing so.

While Edwin Criswell did not object to the stipulation, his wife did.

"As an individual who has cared for cats and loves the cats, this has been very difficult for her," said Lane Bennett, who is representing Cheryl Criswell.

Bennett said his client is in a fragile mental state and that a court-designated visitation could be helpful to the animals as well.

"Maybe it would be healthy for the cats. We don't know their state of mind either," Bennett said.

Park said the Spay and Neuter Task Force, dependent on volunteers, does not have time to designate or supervise visitation hours between the cats and their former owners.

Ortley denied Cheryl Criswell's request, but said he might consider the possibility of allowing Criswell "meaningful contact" with the cats in the future.

"I don't know which of the 88 cats that would be with," he said.

Cheryl Criswell said she had a list of about 15 cats that she and Edwin Criswell considered their own personal animals.

The couple, who have said they were trying to operate an animal rescue facility, have been released from the Flathead County Detention Center.

It's not the first time they've faced criminal charges for possessing an inordinate number of felines.

More than 400 cats were seized from the Criswells in Bonner County, Idaho, in 2006, leading to misdemeanor charges and suspended jail sentences that prohibited them from having more than 20 domesticated animals in their possession.

In Montana, a felony aggravated animal cruelty conviction carries a maximum penalty of two years with the Montana State Department of Corrections and a fine of $2,500.

Trials for Edwin and Cheryl Criswell are tentatively scheduled to begin April 4.
Source: - Jan 31, 2011
Update posted on Jan 31, 2011 - 8:53AM 
A husband and wife from Marion appeared before a district county judge Thursday for hoarding over 100 cats.

Edwin and Cheryl Criswell pleaded not guilty after being charged with one felony count each of aggravated cruelty to animals.

The animals were found after the Flathead County Sheriff's Office responded to the scene of two trailers in Marion for reports of a couple of animals that was starving.

Many of the animals were in poor health, including dehydration, and blindness according to authorities.

Cheryl Criswell says they are currently seeking help.

"I don't want to feel this way anymore, and physically I can't handle taking care of a lot of cats like we did. We got stranded out there and kept trying to get help and no one would help us."

The cats were seized from the Criswell's property and are in much better condition and could be adopted within the next few months.

The Criswell's next court appearance is February 16th.
Source: - Jan 27, 2011
Update posted on Jan 27, 2011 - 8:40PM 


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