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15  03 2008

Hundreds of sick cats found in Pa. raid

TARENTUM, Pa. - Hundreds of sick and dying cats were removed from a fortress-like sanctuary Friday in a raid brought on by worried animal lovers and a former county worker who infiltrated with a hidden camera.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dead cats were believe buried on the secluded 29-acre property known as Tiger Ranch Farm, about 20 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

Owner Linda Bruno apparently meant well but lost track of the needs of the animals years ago, said Howard Nelson, director of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which organized the raid.

“I found her to be in denial of the condition of the cats,” he said. “It’s billed as a sanctuary, but no one person can take care of 750 cats.”

Bruno, also known as Linn Marie, 45, was arraigned Friday on 13 counts of animal cruelty and neglect, but more charges were expected as subsequent cases were documented, Nelson said. She was in jail, unable to post $50,000 bond. It was not immediately clear whether Bruno had an attorney.

Animal control agents and sheriff’s deputies arrived Thursday night. By midday Friday, at least a dozen cats had been euthanized at the site and more than 400 had to be medicated due to highly contagious diseases, officials said. Authorities found 600 to 700 cats on the property.

The SPCA got a search warrant after a seven-month undercover investigation in which former Butler County humane officer Deborah Urmann, who worked for Bruno once a week as a volunteer, videotaped the operations using a button camera purchased over the Internet, officials said.

“She claims she’s a no-kill shelter, but really she’s a slow-kill shelter,” Urmann said.

About 100 cats were living in a building that looked like a construction trailer. It was strewn with blood and feces and had two doors that enabled the cats to go out into a fenced area. Dozens of cats lived with Bruno in her ranch-style home, too, Nelson said.

“You couldn’t even breathe because of the ammonia,” Nelson said, referring to the stench of cat urine.

Officials were hopeful as many as 80 percent of the rescued cats can be saved. They hope to find homes for them once they are rehabilitated.

Unlike dog kennels, however, there is no legal limit to how many cats a sanctuary can have.

Carolyn DeForest, a psychologist from Sewickley involved in volunteer animal rescue work, helped Urmann with her undercover investigation. One problem was that Bruno operated secretively and didn’t allow people onto the property except from 10 p.m. to midnight, when she’d accept animals to shelter, DeForest said.

“The place is like Fort Knox,” she said.

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