But prosecutors yesterday, in asking an Allegheny County Common Pleas Court judge to sentence the woman formerly known as Linda Bruno to jail time, presented a bleak and disturbing image where diseased cats were left to contaminate the healthy, only 21 cats were adopted out of thousands taken in, and mass graves dotted the 29-acre Frazer property.
Judge Jill A. Rangos, who repeatedly admonished the defendant and expressed her disappointment in the multitude of lies she told, did not order the woman to jail.
But she didn't discount the possibility either.
Instead, the judge ordered Ms. Marie, 47, to serve two years of house arrest, followed by 27 years of probation. But Judge Rangos also told the defendant she would not hesitate to put Ms. Marie in jail if she violates even the slightest of conditions of her release.
Among those, she is to have no contact with any animals and she must undergo a psychiatric evaluation and participate in weekly mental health treatment.
"I give you this break, in part, not because you deserve it, but I don't feel the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania should pay to warehouse you at the jail," the judge said.
Further, she added, house arrest will allow Ms. Marie to continue working to earn money to cover restitution. She was ordered to pay $200,000 to cover the cost of the veterinary care provided to the 391 live cats seized during the March 2008 raid of the facility.
A former humane agent who began volunteering at Tiger Ranch in August 2007 went to local animal rights groups to complain almost immediately about the conditions she saw.
However, it was the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that finally agreed to help pursue the case.
Along with local law enforcement, they organized a raid on March 13, 2008, bringing in mobile veterinary clinics and dozens of people to help catch the hundreds of cats.
"It's unforgiveable this was going on for so long," said Dr. Becky Morrow, a veterinarian who helped with the investigation, at the raid and in the many months since. "The smell alone would have tipped anyone off."
Originally facing hundreds of counts of animal cruelty, Ms. Marie pleaded guilty in July to 12 counts, plus an additional two counts of tampering with records.
Assistant District Attorney Deborah Jugan laid out for the judge, in very minute detail, the number of cats -- both alive and dead -- found on the property and their medical conditions.
According to Ms. Marie's own records, the prosecutor said, there should have been 7,819 cats on the property that she had taken in. Instead, they recovered 391 live cats and 106 that were dead and stored in freezers. Of the live cats, 300 of them were malnourished, and 294 had some form of upper respiratory infection.
Ms. Marie paid a man with a Bobcat to dig mass graves for her on a regular basis, the prosecutor said. The last one was 30 feet long, 12 feet deep and 12 feet wide.
"You couldn't walk on Tiger Ranch without stepping on cat bones," Ms. Jugan said. "I often wonder if she told so many lies she started believing them. It's amazing how many people this woman was able to con."..." More
October 30, 2008: If it weren't for a handful of volunteers, Tiger Ranch might still be in operation today...
October 25, 2008: Tiger Ranch lawyer calls new charges 'overkill'
On March 13, 2008, the PSPCA removed 406 cats from the Tiger Ranch Cat Sanctuary in Tarentum, Pa., a 28-acre property owned and operated by Lin Marie (Linda Bruno). Upon entering the property with a search warrant obtained from the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office and along with animal welfare experts from the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®), PSPCA officials found hundreds of cats living in squalor in multiple buildings, suffering from numerous serious illnesses and disease, including ESCHERICHIA COLI, STAPHYLOCOCCUS, PROTEUS MIRABILUS, FELINE CALICIVIRUS, HERPES VIRUS, BORDETELLA, MYCOPLASMA FELIS and CHLAMYDOPHILAFELIS. The cats' symptoms included upper respiratory conditions, severe muscle wasting, abscesses, dehydration, malnutrition, purulent oral ulcers, eyes completely occluded with dried mucus and other conditions that required immediate medical intervention. Some cats had oral ulcers that prevented them from eating and a discharge from the eyes that was left unchecked and resulted in loss of vision and then the eyes themselves. Hundreds more cats were found dead in deep freezers and burial pits located on the Tiger Ranch property. Cats were fighting over one food dish and water bowl, dead cats were found in litter boxes and extremely ill and dying cats were living with seemingly healthier cats...." More background & pictures (graphic)