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Jury says guilty in animal-cruelty trial

by Elka Wood Western News
| April 27, 2017 2:20 PM

When Cathie Warren was served with a warrant on August 2 last year, she had on her Libby property a veritable menagerie of animals, including 53 dogs, donkeys, horses, birds, goats and cats. After members of the sheriff’s department, a veterinarian, a representative of the Humane Society and animal control officers walked through the property and inspected the animals, all of the animals were seized due to concerns about their health and safety in Warren’s care.

At the close of her trial on April 20 last week, the jury found her guilty of six counts of animal cruelty and two counts of aggravated animal cruelty. Warren was represented by attorney Ryan Peabody, while the state was represented by Jeffrey Zwang, deputycounty attorney.

Prior to the seizing of the animals, Kathy Hooper and Wendy Anderson from county animal control had visually inspected some animals on a visit April 21, 2016. They found “at least 10 dogs confined in a cruel manner” and their findings led to a follow-up inspection on June 20.

The care and treatment of Warren’s animals from the first visit by county health authorities on April 21 until August 2 when the animals were seized was under examination during the trial, including charges that Warren failed to feed the animals a sufficient and appropriate diet, failed to provide medical treatment and failed to provide appropriate living conditions.

Warren pleaded not guilty and maintained her innocence throughout her testimony, stating that “I didn’t know there was a move to take away my dogs, Kathy Hooper never said anything. I thought I was licensed, I was licensed.”

Presenting herself as “a breeder of 35 years”, Warren appeared confused that she had been charged and indicated she thought she was in compliance with county rules and the law regarding treatment of animals.

But prior to closing statements and jury instructions, the state called Wendy Anderson back to the stand to confirm the kennel license process.

“A kennel license expires one year from the date that the license is issued. A kennel license is only good for 20 dogs. When a kennel license is applied for normally a conditional license is granted until a review of additional information granting a kennel license. No kennel license or conditional license was ever issued to Warren” said Anderson in her statement.

Two veterinarians, Dr. Genovese from Whitefish Animal Clinic, and Dr. Fred Conkel of Westgate Animal Hospital in Libby, both testified that they had examined the animals held on Warren’s property after they were seized, and noted the condition the animals were in according to an evaluation scale used nationally.

The scale rates animals a number between 1 and 9 with 1 being emaciated, 5 being in ideal condition and 9 meaning the animal is obese.

According to Dr. Genovese, 26 of the dogs she examined rated a 1, 26 rated 2 which was very thin, and one animal was adequate.

In terms of the health of the dogs inspected, Dr. Genovese testified that there were 43 dogs with ear infections, three with eye infections, one with an abscessed tooth, and one dog with skin infections and sores that resulted from a dog fight, as well as sores on ‘bony protuberances’.

Of the animals inspected, five dogs had fecal matting of their coats so severe it had caused bladder infections and skin infections and there were nine dogs that needed immediate clipping.

The doctor testified that the dog’s matted fur had pine needles and grass stuck in them. She said that if the mats get moist, often maggots will be found under the fur next to the skin. Treatment for matted fur is to clip the fur down to the skin and brush the remaining fur. The ear infections were likely caused by fur matting in the ear canal.

While testifying on the condition of her dog’s coats, Warren said that she had a grooming schedule and that the pictures shown to the court were of “the five dogs I was due to groom next.” She stated that she could have taken care of all the dog’s coats in a matter of three days, but Zwang pointed out that between April 21 and August 2, she was not able to catch up on the grooming she said would take three days.

“If I thought there was an issue I would stay up all night and all day,” said Warren in response.

One dog, a poodle described as ‘emaciated’ by Dr. Genovese, was found alone in the barn on August 2 and during the Dr.’s observation of the animal, a baby chicken wandered past. The animal devoured the chick ‘voraciously’.

During Warren’s testimony, she said that this dog had been in a dogfight which was why he was not eating and that she had him on soft food and was so worried she had “prayed about it” and thought the dog “looked so bad I thought I might have to call Dr. Griffiths and have him put down.” The dog was found to be dehydrated as well as emaciated on examination.

Dr. Genovese was directed to a dead dog found on the Warren property during her inspection on Aug 2. The animal was on the back of the property in a black plastic bag in a truck bed, the body was too decomposed to determine the cause of death.

Warren stated that it died of bloat, a condition where the stomach fills with gas and twists, and that she was waiting for her husband to get home to bury it. Dr. Genovese said that bloat can only be diagnosed with X-rays, it cannot be diagnosed by just looking at an animal and examination. Warren told the Dr. that the dog had not been treated for bloat.

A veterinarian of 47 years, Dr. Fred Conkel was called to the stand to testify for the State about the condition of the large animals inspected from the property, specifically donkey’s. He was asked to examine six donkeys on August 4 and his examination took place away from Warren’s property after the animals were removed.

Of the six donkeys, four were given a body condition score of 3 with two having a body condition score of 4. Dr. Conkel noted the animal’s hooves were long and that this can eventually lead to a domestic animal being crippled as they don’t wear down naturally as they would on a wild animal whose hooves are exposed to different surfaces i.e. rock.

One animal had excessively long hooves and walked on her heels as a result. One animal was found to have a ‘strawberry sized’ penis tumor which was described by the Dr. as being “bloody and having maggots on it.”

Warren’s attorney, Ryan Peabody, asked if the tumor was visible and apparent and Dr. Conkel replied that it was only visible when the animal was urinating or when a sedative was given and the muscles relaxed.

Upon inspection of the property, photos of empty cat food bags were taken and no dog food was apparent, said Detective David Hall from the sheriff’s department. Warren stated she did have cats on the property who ate the food, but that she had researched on the internet and consulted a ‘nutritionist’ affiliated with a pet food company Warren was a distributor for who had told her that for small dogs, cat food was similar enough to be a substitution for dog food.

Ms. Warren stated that she had rationed the cat food to slow the dog’s growth and because it did not cause diarrhea, which she said her dogs suffered from.

She had researched on the internet and found that cat food was higher in protein than dog food, and thought it must be better quality food. Dr. Genovese said that cats are carnivores and dogs are omnivores so the foods have different sources of proteins and they are not interchangeable.

In his cross-examination, Mr. Zwang commented to Warren that perhaps Dr. Genovese’s assessment of cat food not being suitable for dogs was unfounded because “she hasn’t done the Google searches like you have.” An objection by Mr. Peabody was sustained.

Warren’s husband, Michael Odegaard, and her neighbor, Gordon Sullivan, testified on her behalf. Odegaard said he works five days a week in Whitefish, and he was responsible for caring for the dogs while Warren was away. “We were always working on the property to try to make it better, better kennels, more runs” said Odegaard. Describing his wife, he said, “I’ve never seen anyone more compassionate with animals.”

Neighbor Sullivan testified that he had known Warren for about a year and lives on the adjoining property, about half a mile away.

Describing his interactions with Warren, Sullivan said he would often see her “like the pied piper” walking down the road followed by 10-12 little poodles and that Warren gave him a poodle upon learning Sullivan had been diagnosed with cancer. “I had to learn how to care for this breed, whose grooming requirements are strenuous, I would say” said Sullivan.

“Cathie would come and groom the dog for me and I would pay her. It would usually take about two hours, but now I pay someone else and it takes them about five hours” reported Sullivan.

During Sullivan’s testimony, the defendant wiped away tears.

The case came down to the jury deciding if Warren had maliciously and purposefully neglected her animal’s needs, or if she did not know her animals were suffering but would have, had she known, taken action to rectify the situation.

In his closing statement, Mr. Peabody said “Ms. Warren was not callous. She was not given a chance to make a change, and her husband testified that they were working on it. Warren believed everything she was doing was right, including getting information from the internet, what she thought was a reliable source.”

Peabody finished with a reminder to the jury that “the burden of proof has to be beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest standard in the legal system.”

The State closed by urging the courtroom to “please remember that Warren did not provide the dead Borzoi with treatment for a serious illness. She did not notice the serious illness prior to death because she had too many animals. The Defendant took all these animals into her custody. She took on the responsibility to care for them but did not. If Warren was a breeder with 35 years of experience she should not have needed more time than she was given to correct the situation. The State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt the charges in this case and should return a guilty verdict” said Mr. Zwang. in his closing statement.

Cathie Warren will be sentenced on June 5.ser