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Cat owner must pay $8,000 in cruelty case

A Huntingdon woman who last year entered no contest pleas to two counts of aggravated cruelty to animals will be required to pay more than $8,000 in restitution to the Huntingdon County Humane Society, the agency that cared for more than 60 cats taken from her home and a U-Haul truck on her property, according to a recent decision by the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

Barbara Jean Kissinger, 70, who operated a sanctuary for cats, was charged with cruelty to animals on Aug., 31, 2019, after authorities removed 64 cats from her property on Oneida Street and took them to the humane society.

Several other cats were also found deceased in her home and in the U-Haul.

Huntingdon County Court Judge George N. Zanic on July 9, 2021, accepted an agreement under which Kissinger entered no contest pleas to two counts of aggravated cruelty to animals.

Zanic in his sentencing order banned Kissinger from possessing or caring for animals in the future and sentenced her to consecutive terms of seven years’ probation on each count.

He also ordered her to pay $8,672 in restitution to the humane society.

Kissinger, through her attorney, Grey Tressler of Bellefonte, appealed the restitution order — asking if it was an illegal sentence.

The defense argued that the humane society was not a “victim” as the term is defined under state law.

A panel of the state Superior Court in an opinion issued late last week came to a different conclusion, stating, “The cruelty to animals statutes explicitly permitted the court to require Kissinger to pay for the cost of caring for her animals.”

The opinion, written by Judge Maria McLaughlin, stated that the statutes covering cruelty to animals “provide that the cost of keeping, care and destruction of any animal seized pursuant to these statutes is to be paid by the owner of the animal.”

The appeals court pointed out that Kissinger does not contest that she was the owner of the cats found in the house or U-Haul.

The ruling continued: “Kissinger’s cats were in the home and U-Haul and because of her lack of care, these animals had to be treated and cared for by HCHS.

“As HCHS incurred the cost of the care, the trial court did not err by ordering Kissinger to pay the cost as a condition of her probation,” according to the Superior Court.

At the time of the incident, the humane society issued a statement indicating it took more than 60 cats from Kissiinger’s Rose Cottage Cat Sanctuary, which was founded as a nonprofit agency in February 2016.

It reported that the building had no running water and the odor from the property was noticeable a block away.

Several of the cats were deceased, but of the surviving cats, nearly half were in critical condition and required immediate veterinary care.

HCHS reported, “This has been an incredible emotional strain for (the humane society staff) for them to see pets in this condition. We will provide grief counseling for our employees in the near future.”

Kissinger’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

The Superior Court first addressed the question whether Kissinger’s appeal was timely. It decided that it met the timeliness requirements.

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