Animal neglect charges filed


A Pahrump woman who ran a sanctuary where hundreds of sick and starving cats had to be rescued last year is now facing animal neglect charges, but not in connection with the defunct shelter.

Sharon Lee Allen was formally charged on Thursday with 13 misdemeanor counts stemming from more than 100 cats seized from her home in Pahrump.

So far, though, no one has been charged in connection with the conditions found at the sanctuary Allen once ran on behalf of For the Love of Cats and Kittens, or FLOCK.

Nye County animal control officers took control of the sanctuary in July, after they found what they described as a cluster of open, fly-ridden cat hutches on a dirt lot surrounded by a 12-foot fence topped with barbed wire. More than 700 cats roamed the grounds, many of them in desperate need of food and medical treatment. A few of the animals had untreated wounds infested with maggots.

The subsequent cat rescue by Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society has been called the largest operation of its kind anywhere in the country. More than 60 of the cats died on their own or had to be euthanized.

"We're looking at possible charges against the FLOCK corporation itself," said Nye County District Attorney Bob Beckett. "We're still investigating that and seeing whether charges against a corporation like that, and corporate members, would be viable."

Russ Mead, general counsel for Best Friends, doesn't know what Beckett is waiting for.

"I'll tell you that just infuriates me," Mead said. "We spent $600,000 taking care of these cats. The deal always was they (those responsible) would be prosecuted to the fullest extent, and that hasn't been done."

"I don't know what his deal is," Mead said of Beckett. "There's something not right about this."

The Pahrump sanctuary is now closed, the cats all gone to new homes or to Best Friends' no-kill shelter near Kanab, Utah, about 200 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

FLOCK, meanwhile, has gone back to work in Las Vegas, where they continue to feed and trap feral animals, hold adoption events at a local pet store, and solicit donations from cat lovers. They no longer operate a shelter, and never will again, according to one board member.

The board blames Allen for what happened at the sanctuary in Pahrump, accusing her of barring volunteers and changing the locks every two weeks.

Allen, who took over as FLOCK president when the sanctuary moved from Clark County to Pahrump in 2006, has said conditions at the facility were fine when she left the organization on May 30, two months before Best Friends' rescue.

One thing is certain: FLOCK was in trouble before the sanctuary was moved and Allen took over.

According to Clark County records, the group's facility in Sloan, just south of Las Vegas, was cited numerous times for a variety of violations, most of them to do with exceeding their permitted number of cats and failing to remove animal waste from the property.

"Don't take more pets than you can provide excellent care for. I think that's really the lesson," said Joe Boteilho, Clark County's chief of code enforcement.

Boteilho insists FLOCK wasn't run out of Clark County but left of its own accord.

"I think it was a decision on their part to leave as a result of the compliance issues. It was always open to them to come into compliance," he said.

Terri Koppe is one of a number of valley veterinarians who treated FLOCK cats at a deep discount.

She said the people who brought the cats to her seemed caring and responsible, but her experience with the organization convinced her not to work with feral cat rescue groups anymore.

Koppe said she couldn't shake the feeling she was getting cats healthy for a trip to a concentration camp. "You know what I've learned from this? Know who you're working with," she said.

These days, Koppe only partners with organizations, such as Heaven Can Wait Sanctuary, dedicated to spaying and neutering as many animals as possible.

But when it comes to the feral cats and other unwanted animals already out there, Koppe said there are no easy answers.

"Euthanasia is bad, street life is bad, and sanctuaries like FLOCK are bad," she said. "All roads lead to feeling bad."

Eleven of the animal neglect charges against Allen relate to the condition of cats seized from her home near the south end of Pahrump. The two remaining charges -- one for neglect, one for animal cruelty -- relate to the squalid conditions under which authorities say Allen kept all 117 of the cats at her house.

Allen could not be reached for comment, but she told the Review-Journal last year that police focused on the worst areas of the house and didn't take note of more sanitary areas.

She said none of the cats was seriously ill, though a few had respiratory conditions.

Las Vegas resident Kristen Pye ended up with one of those cats, a 2-year-old tabby she named Gizmo.

"He sneezes everywhere. Not just a little spray, either. I've got to take him to a specialist at this point," said Pye, who got the cat the week before Thanksgiving at a Best Friends adoption event in Las Vegas.

Aside from the sneezing, Gizmo seems perfectly healthy. He plays with Pye's two dogs and tries to get along with her other cat. He eats and purrs and presents himself for petting.

"He's very affectionate," Pye said. "He's a pretty happy cat."

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0350.

 

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