Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Ohio: Lesli Martin's cat ‘sanctuary’ was under investigation for 4 months, say authorities

OHIO -- The owner of a cat rescue operation in Middletown received “several warnings” during a four-month investigation before being cited last week, according to documents obtained by this news outlet.

Lesli Martin, 51, the owner of Heart’s Rescue Sanctuary on Breiel Boulevard, is facing a misdemeanor charge for the alleged condition of animals in her care.

The action was taken “after several warnings were given to the owner,” according to the sheriff’s office and the Butler County Dog Warden’s office.

Investigation of Heart’s Rescue Sanctuary fist began in early August, according to a search warrant obtained by this news outlet.

On Aug. 3, the dog warden’s office began an investigation after receiving a complaint alleging about 40 t0 50 sick and injured cats were inside the facility on Breiel Boulevard, according to the search warrant.

“Many of the animals were in awful conditions,” Deputy Jamie Hearlihy said in the affidavit for the search warrant. “Open mouth breathing, barely moving, some were leaking stool and had discharge around the nose and eyes.”

The owner was issued a warning and told that all the animals needed to go to the veterinarian. The dog warden and deputies said they would follow up the next week.

Deputies returned to the sanctuary on Aug. 17 with Middletown zoning and the department of health. According to court records, the cats had been taken to a veterinarian but were “still not doing better.”

In addition, more cats were sick, according to the deputies. At that time, Martin was again told to get the cats veterinarian care.

Dog wardens and deputies checked on the cats Aug. 28, Sept. 12, Sept. 19 and Sept. 26. According to deputies, “every time we returned the cats seemed to be getting more sick and injured.”

On Sept. 29, a second warning was issued to Martin for the condition of the cats and the inside of the shelter, according to court documents.

When deputies tried to follow up on Nov. 21, Martin said she was on vacation.

On Nov. 29, deputies returned and talked with the person responsible while Martin was gone. According to court documents, they could tell 15 cats were sick just by looking at them and at least 10 others needed veterinarian care.

Officials then filed for a search warrant to take the sick animals.

When the sheriff’s office served the search warrant Wednesday at the storefront in Middletown Shopping Center, they found 49 felines.

According to records obtained by this news outlet, 28 cats were seized from the shelter. The others remain at the location under the care of different people. Five of the cats that were removed had to be euthanized, according to the sheriff’s office.

Martin declined comment at the advise from her attorney, but in social media posts has said the charge of misdemeanor cruelty to companion animals is not true.

She is scheduled to appear in Middletown Municipal Court on Dec. 15.

“We gave Ms. Martin ample time to comply with current laws involving these animals, and she just didn’t come through,” said Deputy Dog Warden Kurt Merbs. “We try to help rescue businesses any way we can, including meeting with the owners, visiting the businesses, and providing information on where and how to seek help with keeping healthy animals in a safe environment.”

“Most of the cats have infections and diseases, and not all of them are treatable,” he said.

The cats taken from Heart’s Rescue Sanctuary are currently in treatment at Animal Friends Humane Society.

“They are all very unhealthy,” said Meg Stephenson, executive director of the humane society located in Hamilton.

Cats successfully treated will eventually be available for adoption, she said.

(Journal News - Dec. 6, 2016)