Monday, May 3, 1993

Florida: "The overriding feeling of people in the community is she's disturbed" - Vikki Kittles, charged with 22 counts of animal cruelty, continues to hoard suffering animals

FLORIDA -- Quiet little Astoria, Ore. hasn`t been the same since former Broward resident Vikki Kittles arrived in town.

Vikki Rene Kittles (also known as Susan Dietrich, Rene Depenbrock, and Lynn Zellan), 45, is the woman arrested in 1985 at her mother`s Wilton Manors home on animal cruelty charges after police discovered the women's roommates were two horses, 37 dogs and three cats.

She left Broward County in 1988 only to draw attention again last month on the rural, northern Oregon coast with 117 dogs, four cats and two chickens squeezed into a school bus.

Now Kittles -- arrested on April 16 near Astoria, population 10,000 -- is charged with 22 misdemeanor counts of animal neglect.

The quiet and normalcy of Astoria has been disrupted by Kittles` appearance.

"She`s starting to lose it," said Clatsop County Sheriff`s Deputy Ed Rhoads. "She came in our parking lot (on Friday) and was ranting and raving."

Dan Carter, managing editor of the Daily Astorian, said, "She`s left four or five messages on my voice mail -- just rambling thoughts, really."

Such actions are familiar to those who encountered Kittles in Broward. She had several volatile enounters with police, claimed people were conspiring to kill her animals and routinely fired lawyers who represented her.

Kittles left South Florida in 1985 rather than go to trial on the animal abuse charges. She took her mother, Jean Sullivan -- and a lot of animals -- with her.

When Kittles was re-arrested in Manatee County in 1987, she returned to Broward to face animal abuse and other charges. Sullivan has never been heard from again -- a mystery that still baffles police, who think she is dead.

Kittles` sister-in-law, Carol Kittles of Kendall, hired a private detective to try to find Sullivan. The detective failed. Vikki Kittles has adamantly refused to discuss her mother with police.

Carol Kittles said she will not try to question Vikki Kittles about Sullivan, who if alive, would be in her late 70s.

"There's nothing I can do," she said. "She won`t speak to me, anyway."

Kittles could not be reached for comment. Directory assistance in Astoria has no telephone listing for her and it could not be determined where she is living.

Kittles spent about a week in jail on the Oregon charges before being released. Her animals were placed in a county animal shelter and a private kennel pending the outcome of her trial.

"We've gotten a lot of calls from people wanting to come down and adopt them," Rhoads said. Others have donated food and money.

Oregon authorities said Kittles picked up most of the dogs from a Mississippi shelter, supposedly" so they would not be killed". Then she drove to Colorado and Washington before ending up in Oregon.

"We`re finding out dogs died along the way," Rhoads said. One witness in Washington saw Kittles set the carcass of a dog on fire, he said.

Since her Oregon arrest, Vikki Kittles has fired three court-appointed attorneys. Now she must act as her own lawyer or hire one at her own expense.

She also has been banned from the animal shelter because she caused a ruckus during an earlier visit. At least two of her dogs have died from illnesses, and others have heartworms.

It is perhaps ironic that Kittles, the self-styled animal lover, is staying in Astoria. The town is named after John Jacob Astor, the fur magnate who established a fur trading post in the area.

"The overriding feeling of people in the community is she's disturbed," said Carter, the newspaper editor. "People aren't really amused by this whole thing. But she has had some supporters."

Kittles' next court appearance is scheduled for Friday, when she is expected to ask a judge to force the animal shelter to preserve the bodies of any of her animals that die in its custody.

(Sun Sentinel - May 3, 1993)