Dan Hust | Democrat
A BARKING DOG guards the mobile home Gloria Smith is reportedly living in while her home is being renovated on Pinewood Road near Lake Huntington.
County Seizes 82 Cats From Accused 'Animal Hoarder' In Cochecton
By Jeanne Sager and Dan Hust
COCHECTON August 28, 2007 There were 82 in all, stacked sometimes four or five high.
The rabbit hutches, lined with urine-soaked newspaper, were the homes for Gloria Smith’s cats.
Thursday, a call came in to the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office.
An anonymous caller was making allegations they’ve heard before and once again deputies headed out to Smith’s home in Cochecton.
That’s where they found the 82 cats, according to Undersheriff Eric Chaboty, living in the hutches in the basement of the home on Pinewood Road.
Although there was food and water for the felines, Chaboty said there were no litter boxes in the windowless basement.
Instead newspaper covered the base of each cage. As it soaked through with urine and feces, pieces fell through onto the cats in the hutches below, he explained.
Long called an animal hoarder by Town of Cochecton officials and neighbors, Smith was apparently in the hospital when the call was placed to the Sheriff’s office Thursday.
The caretaker left on the premises of Smith’s private shelter, “Bennies Buddies,” couldn’t tell the deputies where she was, and calls to local facilities couldn’t locate her.
It wasn’t until after an order had been signed by Judge Kevin Rhyne of the Town of Bethel to seize the cats that Smith appeared, with the EKG leads still attached to her chest.
Obviously in ill health, Smith checked herself out of the hospital to return to her animals, Chaboty said.
He made the drive himself to Jeffersonville to pick up six medical prescriptions at the Jeff Pharmacy for Smith.
“Sometimes you have to do that,” he admitted.
An estimated 61 dogs at the Cochecton home were left there housed in outside kennels, they had ample food and water and Chaboty said they weren’t deemed to be in harm’s way.
But the exact number is in question without a warrant, the Sheriff’s Office could only count them based on sight and sound.
They aren’t budging on the cats all 82 were taken off the premises by Sunday after a veterinarian’s examination determined they were healthy enough to be moved.
Smith was charged with 82 separate counts of animal neglect under New York State ag and markets law, each a misdemeanor that could carry up to a year in county jail although the state will only allow a maximum of two years in jail plus fines up to $1,000 per misdemeanor.
According to Assistant District Attorney Jim Farrell, that means Smith could be facing some pretty hefty fines.
By Monday afternoon, when Smith was scheduled to appear in Town of Cochecton Court to answer the charges, she was back in the hospital at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla recovering from open heart surgery.
Cochecton Judge Robert Meyer said Smith’s nurse practitioner told him she was “ordering her in so many words; she can’t do anything.”
Deputy Debra Hall, one of the Sheriff’s Office’s main animal cruelty investigators, was unmoved by Smith’s medical circumstances.
“She went over there just to avoid coming here that’s obvious,” Hall said.
But because of those circumstances, Meyer allowed for a delay in Smith’s arraignment, rescheduling the court date for Thursday.
If she doesn’t appear, Farrell said he will be requesting a warrant for her arrest, stating he’s had enough of her “shenanigans.”
“She certainly had the ability to take in 140 animals, but she can’t make it across town to appear in court?” he pondered.
Smith will also be served with a judicial order to “show cause” at a hearing on Sept. 10 at 2 p.m. where she’ll be expected to make a case for the return of her cats.
The cats are being held at an estimated cost of $8,800 per month plus veterinarian fees pending the result of that hearing.
Impounded by the county, the cats could not be housed at the county’s regular shelter in the Town of Liberty because that contract only calls for dog control.
Instead, a new county contract had to be drawn up on an emergency basis with Liberty’s Dog Control Officer Joanne Gerow calling for her to house all 82 cats.
A vet is expected to determine the health of the cats in the next few days, making the call on whether some will have to be euthanized.
Assistant County Attorney Cheryl McCausland said the county is asking for $40,000 from Smith to reimburse the expenses the county will incur.
Should the costs increase, the county may ask for more money in the future.
If Smith does not post a bond for that amount, she will automatically forfeit any rights to her cats.
If she posts that money, the cats may be returned to her, but only until the court determines the animals’ ultimate fate.
“By the preponderance of evidence, we’re confident we can prove the animals were neglected,” Farrell said.