Lunatic Rulings in Cats With No Name Cruelty Cases Prove Once Again That Pennsylvania Is a Safe Haven for Cat Killers and Junkies
"Animals were left to starve, freeze, abandoned, no food, no water, for quite a long time. Left to die. This (ruling) is sending a message to the rest of Schuylkill County that animal cruelty is not taken seriously."
-- Rennie Miller
For thirteen long years fifty-year-old Virginia Kresge Justiniano of Enola operated the Cats With No Name (CWNN) sanctuary at 33 Walmer Lane in Pine Grove, one-hundred-twenty-two kilometers outside of Philadelphia. For either all or part of that time she was assisted by her thirty-eight-year-old paramour, Andy J. Oxenrider of Tower City.
As far as the outside world knew, the duo took in considerable cash and did quite well. For example, on their old web site they claimed to have sterilized fifteen-thousand cats and dogs between 2006 and early 2009 as well as having vaccinated and treated thousands of others. What they were doing between 1996 and 2006 is anybody's guess and even their claim to have kept dogs is a little suspicious.
Leaving all of that aside for the moment, Justiniano and Oxenrider declared on their web site that CWNN is "dedicated to improving the health and welfare of all animals" but that it specialized in "working with ferals and homeless cats." Justiniano even went so far as to make the following altruistic boast: "It is my dream...to one day be unemployed...because the animals are all safe...and loved...and I am no longer needed."
A routine traffic stop of Oxenrider by Pine Grove Police Officer Jeff Futchko on January 24, 2009 changed all of that forever and exploded his and Justiniano's carefully crafted public facade. It also set in motion a series of bizarre events that ultimately proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the type of assistance Justiniano had been providing the cats was the very epitome of cruel and inhumane. Initially, however, Oxenrider was charged only with driving with a suspended license, drug possession, and of offering a $500 bribe to Futchko.
One thing led to another as it usually does in these types of investigations and Futchko soon found himself at CWNN. Although he no doubt had expected to find additional drugs and paraphernalia, he was ill-prepared for the scope of what he uncovered.
In short, hypodermic needles were strewn throughout the sanctuary. "We literally had to use a snow shovel to remove them," he told the Republican and Herald of Pottsville on January 28, 2009. (See "Seventy Cats Found at Pine Grove Home.")
"This was basically a shoothouse. Heroin, meth (methamphetamines), whatever they could get their hands on," his partner, Officer Mark Resue, added in the same article. "You can't step foot in that house without stepping on a hypodermic needle."
As prodigious as it was, Justiniano's and Oxenrider's drug abuse paled in comparison with the condition of the approximately one-hundred-twenty-eight cats that were being held hostage at the so-called sanctuary. None of them had food, water, heat, or litter boxes. In fact, excrement was six-inches deep!
Deprived on veterinary care for an extended period of time, many of them had broken bones, abscesses, infected lacerations, and dental diseases. Just about all of them were suffering from respiratory ailments, the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), Feline Leukemia (FeLV), ringworm, dermatitis, ear infections, and fleas. Meningitis and e-coli also were present.
Tragically, many of the cats already were dead. When all was said and done, at last eighty of them either were dead or had to be euthanized. That any of them made it out of that hellhole alive is thanks in no small part to the herculean efforts of the Ruth M. Steinert Memorial SPCA of Minersville, local resident Rennie Miller, and a host of local businesses that came to the survivors' aid. (See top photo of the SPCA's Kim Cavanaugh rescuing one of the cats.)
"It's a real shame that these cats had to suffer and die and go through hellish conditions. It was like Auschwitz," Ms. Miller, who owns Rockroad Trucking in Washington Township, Schuylkill County, and lent her garage as a makeshift shelter for the cats, told The Morning Call of Allentown on March 6, 2009 in a video. (See "Survivors of 'Kitty Auschwitz' Healing in Schuylkill County, Thanks to Outpouring.") "The stories I've heard of cats with snot hanging off their faces frozen solid. It was just bad. Cats frozen to the ground (and) under the ice."
"I am very rarely speechless, but I can't even put into words what I saw," Kim Pribella of the SPCA told the Republican and Herald on January 29, 2009. (See "Workers Euthanize Thirteen Rescued Felines.") "I couldn't even in my wildest dreams describe it."
In addition to the cats, an unspecified number of deer, geese, ferrets, and chickens also were found at the compound. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to determine why they were there or, more importantly, what was done with them.
The massive rescue effort was hampered from the outset due to the cold temperatures and the snow on the ground. Plus, there was neither heat nor running water at the facility. (See photo above of cat carriers haphazardly abandoned in the snow. All of the shots taken by the SPCA are from either January 26th or January 27th of 2009; the dates stamped on them are incorrect.)
The police also had sections of the compound cordoned off as a crime scene and the landlord, eighty-four-year-old Emma Wolfe, exacerbated an already difficult situation by promptly ordering both the SPCA and the cats off the premises. What role, if any, she may have played in the horrific abuses that took place is not clear, but as the owner she is in part responsible for Justiniano's and Oxenrider's crimes.
Considering the length of their tenancy, it is difficult to believe that she never once inspected the grounds and therefore was totally in the dark as to what they were doing. Nevertheless, she was never charged with any crime. (See photo above of some of the accumulated litter and filth inside the sanctuary.)
As far as the survivors are concerned, at least six of them were scheduled to have been placed in a colony by Kitty Colony Rescue of Lancaster and, according to its web site, the SPCA was successful in finding homes for the majority of the other cats. Unfortunately, there more than likely have been additional mortalities during the past year. (See photos below of a few of the cats that were rescued alive.)
In addition to merely neglecting the cats, Justiniano and Oxenrider were using funds donated to CWNN in order to purchase drugs. They even were selling donated cat food in order to get high.
"They hit an all-time low and started selling the cat food for drugs," Resue added in the January 28, 2009 Republican and Herald article cited supra.
The police even found a storage shed chock-full of cat food that Justiniano and Oxenrider were saving in order to sell for additional drug money. Totally unconcerned that the cats were dying of starvation, dehydration, hypothermia, and a total lack of veterinary care, Justiniano eventually vacated the premises in favor of the considerably more salubrious confines of a nearby Econo Lodge in order to escape the stench of death and feces.
As difficult as it is to comprehend, both Justiniano and Oxenrider earlier this year got off with probation and minuscule fines thanks to plea bargains negotiated by their attorneys with Schuylkill County Assistant District Attorney Douglas J. Taglieri.
For her part, Justiniano was charged with one-hundred-seventeen counts of animal cruelty, twenty counts of drug possession, and two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia. On February 18th, Schuylkill County Court Judge Charles M. Miller sentenced her to twenty-three months of probation, $800 in fines, $1,360 in restitution that is go to the state police crime lab in Bethlehem as opposed to the good people at the SPCA, plus fifty hours of community service. She also was banned from owning any animals for ten years.
"Those cats didn't die at my hands!" Justiniano, unbowed and unrepentant, had the chutzpah to declare to WNEP-TV of Moosic on February 18th. (See "Woman Gets Probation for Animal Cruelty.") She also has indicated that she is planning a lawsuit of her own but against whom and on what legal grounds is a mystery. (See photo of her below.)
"She was using drugs and the drugs took over her life," Jeff Markosky, her attorney, told WNEP-TV. "She was never a drug user but she began using and lost control."
This loathsome ruling left Ms. Miller livid. "Animals were left to starve, freeze, abandoned, no food, no water, for quite a long time. Left to die," she told the judge according to WNEP-TV. "This is sending a message to the rest of Schuylkill County that animal cruelty is not taken seriously."
Caring absolutely nothing about cats and being completely devoid of any sense of justice, Judge Miller was not about to be swayed. "This is the best result," he is quoted by the Republican and Herald on February 19th as cavalierly brushing aside her criticism. (See "Woman Admits Animal Cruelty, Drug Possession.") "This is the best we can do right now."
Well, if that is indeed the very best that cat-lovers and those who wish to live in neighborhoods that are free of drug addicts and their vicious crimes can expect from jurists in Pennsylvania, a thoughtful person trembles at what the worst might be. That possibly could entail the granting of letters of marque to habitual criminals as well as erecting statues in their honor.
"She accepted responsibility," Markosky bellowed in the February 19th Republican and Herald article cited supra. "To say that she's not being held accountable is just not the case."
On both counts he clearly is blowing it out both ends in a pathetic attempt to hoodwink the public. By her own admission she definitely has not accepted responsibility for killing all of those cats. She merely copped a plea in order to stay out of jail. It is going to be interesting to see if Markosky represents her in her planned lawsuit and what leger de main he will be able to come up with in order to stand all logic, morality, and truth on their heads.
A day earlier on February 17th, Oxenrider was given an identical sweetheart deal in the same court by Judge Cyrus Palmer Dolbin. In doing so, he pled guilty to one-hundred-seventeen counts of animal cruelty, nine counts of drug possession, one count of conspiracy to possess drug paraphernalia, and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia. In return, the overly generous prosecution dropped eleven counts of drug possession and the bribery charge.
"You're charged with doing a lot of bad things," Dolbin told Oxenrider in what has to qualify as the understatement of the year. (See Republican and Herald, February 18, 2010, "Tower City Man Admits Animal Cruelty, Drug-Related Charges.") "I counted one-hundred-seventeen animals that you mistreated."
Following their arrests, both Justiniano and Oxenrider were jailed but the media never have specified how long they were held before posting bail. All that is known is that Oxenrider spent "several months," whatever that means, behind bars. With presumably more cash on hand, it is difficult to believe that Justiniano had anywhere nearly as much trouble in raising the ten per cent of the $25,000 bond under which she was being held.
With judges like Miller and Dolbin on the bench and a prosecutor such as Taglieri representing the citizens of Schuylkill County it is completely understandable why so many cats and kittens continue to suffer and die at the hands of individuals like Justiniano and Oxenrider. "I lost my kitty and don't know where it got to and she (Justiniano) may have had him and it's awful to think that he may have suffered like that," Pine Grove resident Jane Belghali lamented to WNEP-TV.
Likewise, it is not any mystery why the streets are unsafe to walk and the highways resemble a demolition derby. Citizens are not even secure behind locked doors with drug abusers willing to commit almost any offense in order to finance their addictions. In fact, the Pine Grove Police initially suspected Justiniano of being involved in a burglary ring but no such charges ever were brought against her.
This pair of insane judicial rulings was followed up on April 12th by Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Tina Polachek Gartley's almost as ludicrous decision in the case of career criminal, dope addict, and kitten mutilator, Holly Crawford of Sweet Valley. (See Cat Defender post of April 24, 2010 entitled "Holly Crawford Hits the Jackpot by Drawing a Judge Who Simply Adores Kitten Mutilators and Dope Addicts.")
The lesson to be learned from these cases is that the lives of cats and kittens count for very little with Pennsylvania jurists. Furthermore, these stench-of-the-bench judges are in love with junkies and as a consequence no resident's life and property are secure.
For those in Pennsylvania who care about cats and believe that junkies belong in jail the way forward is clear. If judges like Miller, Dolbin, and Gartley are elected by the people, it is imperative that they be voted out of office at the earliest opportunity. The same holds true for prosecutors like Taglieri who side with criminals against both cats and the public.
These cases also raise the troubling issue of just how sanctuaries, shelters, grooming parlors, and other establishments that either house or service animals are licensed, monitored, and regulated. Clearly, in both Pine Grove and Sweet Valley the authorities are asleep at the switch.
In conclusion, the only positive development to come out of the wholesale suffering and deaths that occurred in Pine Grove was the belated support that the cats received from area residents. "Out of all that horror a lot of good things have happened," Ms. Miller related to The Morning Call in the March 6, 2009 video cited supra. "My faith in human beings has been restored when I see so many people volunteering their time, money, donations, firewood, help (and) work."
She went on to add: "I've been very blessed and grateful for everything I've been given in this life. God's treated me very well. You have to give it away to keep it. It's not about me; it's about the cats."
That is one claim that neither Justiniano nor Oxenrider ever will be able to make. One of her dreams did come true, however, in that she is now unemployed.
Photos: Andy Matsko of the Republican and Herald (Cavanaugh), Ruth M. Steinert Memorial SPCA (the outside and inside of CWNN and the survivors), and Care2.com (Justiniano).