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Thursday, Oct 27, 2011County: Alameda
Charges: Felony CTA
Alleged: Jan Van Dusen
An Oakland woman who made national news last year when she won a case against the Internal Revenue Service over her cat rescue expenses is now facing criminal charges related to the nearly 100 cats she kept in her home.
Jan Van Dusen, 60, faces one count of felony animal cruelty because the majority of her cats were suffering from emaciation, diarrhea, severe parasite infestations and other maladies, Oakland Animal Services staff said. Oakland has no limit on the number of cats an individual can own, just laws prohibiting animal cruelty and neglect.
Van Dusen said she pleaded not guilty and plans to fight the charge. Her next hearing is Jan. 23 in Alameda County Superior Court. She faces a maximum of three years in jail and a $20,000 fine.
"I was so angry when they took the cats. I couldn't believe it," she said Monday at her West Oakland home. "Most of the cats were in good shape, and a lot of them were my personal pets. They had no right to take them."
Oakland animal control officers raided Van Dusen's home on Oct. 27 with a search warrant and confiscated 93 cats and 2 dogs. The cats were living indoors at Van Dusen's 1,500-square-foot home and most were in poor health, staff said. Sixteen of the cats were euthanized because of severe health problems, but 77 others were treated by shelter veterinarians and put up for adoption last week.
The situation at Van Dusen's home was so extreme, the Alameda County district attorney's office decided to pursue a felony charge, which is relatively unusual in animal abuse cases, said district attorney spokeswoman Teresa Drenick.
"All of the evidence and reports were carefully reviewed, and the determination was made that the case reached felony level," she said.
'Mostly under control'
Van Dusen, an attorney, said she took good care of her animals. All were spayed and neutered, she said.
"Things were mostly under control," she said. "They killed some of my favorites, which they had no right to do."
She said the shelter also has no right to find new owners for the cats because the cats belong to her. Ten are her personal pets, and several dozen others she was in the process of finding homes for or were feral cats she planned to care for long-term, she said.
Van Dusen is well-known in cat rescue circles for taking in stray and feral cats, caring for them and finding homes for them. Since the mid-1990s, when she started collecting cats, she's worked with a loose-knit network of nonprofit animal groups and other cat rescuers.
Some of the cats she's owned for years, others were neighborhood strays, and some were given to her by other rescuers, she said. A group of 30 or so came from a parking lot near her house where neighbors had been feeding them. Another 30 or so came from a woman in Martinez who kept them as pets until she died.
"People say I brought all these cats with me. Well, the cats were already here. There was an ocean of cats. I just cleaned it up," she said.
In all, she said she spends more than $14,000 annually on food, litter, veterinary bills and flea treatments.
Victory in Tax Court
Those expenses made national headlines in June when she won a precedent-setting case against the IRS. She claimed her rescue-related expenses were a donation to an IRS-approved charity, and should therefore be deductible. A U.S. Tax Court judge agreed.
But Van Dusen's cat rescue operation started running afoul of authorities about two years ago when neighbors and other residents complained about the smell and condition of the cats.
Oakland Animal Services staff tried several times to persuade Van Dusen to voluntarily give up some of the cats. Once or twice she surrendered some cats, but then acquired more, staff said. Negotiations finally broke down entirely and the city grew increasingly concerned over the health condition of the animals. Finally, the city obtained a search warrant to seize them.
In addition to the cats, officers took two dogs: a pit bull-beagle mix Van Dusen said is her pet, and a Corgi mix she said she is fostering.
A local nonprofit called Cat Town is helping the shelter find homes for the cats.
"It's a cautionary tale for all animal rescuers," said Ann Dunn of Cat Town. "People always say, 'Oh, I can take just one more.' It's hard to say to no an individual cat. But then as an outsider, you see there's just too many."
Allison Lindquist, director of the East Bay SPCA, which helped Oakland Animal Services rescue the felines, said 100 cats is too many.
"Despite people's best intentions, managing nearly 100 cats is virtually impossible," Lindquist said. "The cats, particularly the ferals, suffer greatly."
Adopt a cat
The Oakland Animal Shelter is seeking homes for many of the nearly 100 cats that were taken from a home in Oakland. For more information, go to oaklandanimalservices.org or call (510) 535-5601. The shelter is located at 1101 29th Ave.
- sfgate.com - Jan 18, 2012
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