Tuesday, September 3, 2002

Wyoming: Vikki Kittles, whose hoarding cases in Oregon prompted new laws protecting animals, is arrested again; accused of animal cruelty in Wyoming

WYOMING -- Notorious animal collector Vikki Kittles is back in court, facing misdemeanor charges in Wyoming related to more alleged animal neglect.

Kittles is charged with leaving livestock at large and breach of peace, stemming from incidents that followed local authorities' seizure of a trailer in which she was keeping four dozen cats in cruel conditions. She faces trial Oct. 31 in a Laramie County court in Cheyenne.

Vikki Rene Kittles (also known as Susan Dietrich, Rene Depenbrock, Renee Depenbrock, and Lynn Zellan) gained national attention when she was prosecuted in Clatsop County several years ago for keeping more than 100 dogs in a dilapidated school bus.

In her latest brush with the law, Kittles is accused of leaving six horses tethered to a fence alongside a rural road. She was also ticketed for breach of peace after she reportedly shouted profanities during an confrontation at the state capital in Cheyenne. Both are misdemeanor charges.

According to local news accounts, the latest case began last May when Laramie County Sheriff's personnel impounded a small camping trailer owned by Kittles that contained 48 cats. 

All the cats were found to have ear mites, some had sores that were slow to heal, and one was euthanized because of ringworm, but after an investigation by the sheriff's department into possible animal abuse, no charges were filed.

The cats are being kept at the Cheyenne Animal Shelter, and the horses, some of which were reported to be in marginal health, are being kept at a livestock boarding facility. Kittles was told she would have to pay fees and veterinary costs totaling thousands of dollars to get the animals back.

In return, she has filed a motion accusing county authorities of harming the animals.

Craig Jones, assistant district attorney for Laramie County, said the breach of peace charge carries a possible sentence of up to six months in jail and a $750 fine. The livestock charge carries only a possible fine of up to $750. There is a possibility that some charges could still be filed over her treatment of the cats, he said.

Kittles' dealings with authorities in Wyoming date back to 1997 when she was evicted from a trailer home in Rawlins where she was living with 74 dogs, which were impounded. 

Not long after, she was pulled over in a car that was carrying 40 cats, five dogs and one rabbit, all of which had to be euthanized due to poor health.

Animal cruelty charges were filed against Kittles, but later dropped.

Kittles first came to national attention in 1993 when she was found living in a filthy school bus in Brownsmead that contained 115 dogs, four cats and a chicken. 

She was convicted in early 1995 of 42 counts of animal neglect and given a seven-month jail sentence.

Kittles dragged out her Clatsop County case for almost two years with endless motions and delays, and appears to be using similar tactics in Cheyenne, where she has already had one judge removed from her case and demanded that no public defender be appointed to represent her.

Along with the motion accusing staff of the county animal shelter of mistreating her cats, she also filed a civil rights suit in federal court against a number of local officials over the impoundment of the animals.

Laramie County officials have been dealing with Kittles for four or five years, said animal shelter director Bill Hein.

Kittles, who has used the names Renee Depenbrock and Susan Dietrich, follows a familiar pattern of getting people to let her stay on their property while she collects animals until they're finally prompted to call police.

Most recently Kittles kept the trailer with the cats at a home south of Cheyenne for almost a year before she was told to move on.

"She accuses us of harassing her, but the only time we go out and deal with her is when someone scared out of their wits calls and says, 'get her out of here,'" he said.

The Clatsop County case prompted tougher animal-abuse legislation in Oregon, and a similar effort is under way in Wyoming to make animal cruelty a felony, thanks to Kittles and some other high-profile cases.

Kittles remains at large pending her trial. Hein said she's been seen driving around Cheyenne in a dilapidated car with several animals inside.

"She's started collecting them again," he said.

(Daily Astorian - September 3, 2002)