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Survivor's Tail

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As former Tiger Ranch operator Linda Bruno waits to find out if she'll be spending time behind bars, the cats she once tried to care for are looking to get sprung. Starting Aug. 31, 240 cats rescued from the former Tarentum cat sanctuary were made available for adoption. 

 "These really are some of the most beautiful cats I've ever seen," says Elaine Skypala, program officer with the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "They've all got great weights and wonderful personalities, and it's wonderful that they're finally going to get new, loving homes."

The cats were rescued from Tiger Ranch during a raid on March 13, 2008. Animal-welfare officials recovered more than 450 cats from the site. Conditions there were such that Bruno was charged with 600 counts of animal cruelty, forgery, tampering with public records and operating an unlicensed veterinary practice. A former SPCA shelter in Clarion County was reopened just to house the ranch's cats.

 Adoptions cost $60: Each cat will be spayed or neutered, and come with a complete set of medical records for new owners to take to their own veterinarian. And fewer than a third of the cats will need continuing medical attention. 

Of the roughly 400 cats brought from Tiger Ranch, about 150 died, many of those in the days and weeks following the rescue, Skypala says. Only two did not have any medical problems. Today, of the 240 available for adoption, roughly 75 of those have major recurring health problems. Those cats will be adopted by volunteers, vets or vet techs who understand that the cats may require potentially expensive treatment.

According to Lindsay Joyce, a vet tech at the Clarion shelter and a coordinator for Voices for Animals, the chronic conditions include severe upper-respiratory problems and random ear infections, as well as one cat that survived meningitis and liver-disease survivors. 

But the other cats, says Skypala, are good as new. "Dr. [Becky] Morrow and the volunteers here have spent many nights with these animals, treating them," she says. "Almost every cat that came in here had multiple issues -- some have 88 pages of medical records -- but they've worked hard to bring them back."

Morrow was one of four women who in 2007 launched their own undercover investigation into the Tiger Ranch Pet Sanctuary. The women have said they long had misgivings about the facility, but were frustrated by a lack of response to their concerns from animal-welfare officials. Their own investigation turned up dirty conditions, sick cats wandering the property, and other concerns. (See "Pet Cause," City Paper, Oct. 30, 2008).

In July, Bruno pled guilty to 14 counts of animal cruelty and tampering with public records. (The other charges were dropped.) Prosecutors have said they will ask for jail time when Bruno is sentenced Oct. 5. She faces a maximum sentence of 28 years in prison.

Carolyn Deforest, one of the do-it-yourself investigators, says the adoptions are the outcome she hoped for when the investigation began.

"It's bittersweet for me, because I will miss those cats that we've been taking care of," says Deforest. "But it's absolutely wonderful that they're finally free and finally getting the loving homes they deserved.

"It's hard to believe that these are the same cats" as the ones the women helped rescue, she adds. "They're happy, healthy and most importantly, they survived Tiger Ranch."

 

The Tiger Ranch cats can be seen at the Clarion County facility, 9562 Route 322, Shippensville. Adoption hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, see www.pspca.org

Heidi is one of the 240 Tiger Ranch cats up for adoption.
  • Heidi is one of the 240 Tiger Ranch cats up for adoption.

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