Pet Peeve

If one schnauzer is nice, what's wrong with 150?

"There was some feces on the counters, in the sink, on the stove and on the chair," Novoryta's report continues. "To the right of me I observed a mattress, box spring and an oxygen tank in the bedroom area of the trailer. Scattered on the bed were several bones, fur and flesh. I observed one complete cat skeleton, intact with some fur and a little flesh attached to the bones, in a position as if the cat was lying on its side. I further observed hundreds of bones and carcasses of varying degrees of decay to the west side of the mattress on the floor.... There were hundreds of bones under the bed that appeared to have been there longer than the carcasses on the west side of the bed."

Later, the investigators opened the freezer. Inside were several plastic bags. "We observed a total of one adult cat and eight young kittens completely frozen solid," Novoryta wrote. "They were wrapped in several plastic bags." In all, investigators recovered 39 live cats, about twenty dead ones and numerous remains. Five of the living cats had to be destroyed immediately; fifteen more were euthanized later.

Baca was also on site. She confronted Elaine.

Mark Andresen
A cat in a Cortez home
A cat in a Cortez home

"Do you know how many cats are in there?" Baca demanded. "There's at least fifty."

"I don't believe you," Elaine answered. "There are not."

Baca persisted. "They're eating each other! How could you do that?"

"No," Elaine said. "I don't think they were."

The Marshalls were charged with several counts of animal cruelty. In civil court the following month -- the case was prosecuted through the state attorney general's office because of local law enforcement's inaction -- Elaine Marshall continued her denials. "I don't think they were abused or starving, or anything of that nature," she told the judge. She noted, for example, that she spent between $300 and $400 each month in cat food.

Roehr had his own opinion. "This was the most egregious situation of animal cruelty I have encountered in eight years of investigations," he testified. "The degree of filth, death and severe conditions surpasses anything we have encountered."

Later in the trial, Elaine tried to shift the blame to her husband. "I was just as appalled as you," she insisted. "I had no idea. I have always loved my cats. I raised them when everyone else would've thrown them away.... I'm just dumbfounded. I would never have allowed this to happen."

The judge was unconvinced; both Donald and Elaine were deemed guilty of animal cruelty. Elaine was sentenced to two years' probation, fined a couple hundred dollars and ordered not to own any animals. Donald was sentenced to ten days' home detention and ordered to pay restitution of $7,200 to the Dumb Friends League. The trailer and camper were deemed unsalvageable, and both were destroyed.

Elaine died this past January of a stroke. Donald lives in an assisted-care facility north of Denver. He has pale blue eyes and thick glasses, and moves with the assistance of a walker. A painting of a cat hangs on the wall of his two-room apartment.

"Oh, we had quite a few cats," he says.

A retired Terrazzo floor installer from Spokane, Donald says he and Elaine acquired their first cat, a Siamese, in Tacoma, trading a ring for the pet. "My wife always liked cats," he says. The number of pets grew slowly: "One Siamese, two Siamese, then maybe a couple more..."

They decided to see the country, and sold most of their belongings and purchased a motor home and trailer. They left Tacoma in 1995 and headed east. By then, Donald says, the couple had accumulated about four cats.

After visiting with grandchildren in Pennsylvania, they couple began traveling west again. They passed a couple of years in Ohio and then Tulsa. Along the way, Donald says, they picked up stray cats. At some point, he adds, the Marshalls installed a divider in the motor home to separate the humans' living quarters from the animals'.

By the time they arrived in Colorado, Donald says, "we could still somewhat live with the cats. I fed them; it was quite a challenge. But my wife just couldn't give them up. She had names for all of them. They were her pets. I kept telling her it was too much for me to handle, but she didn't want to let them go."

Besides, he says, "the smell wasn't all that bad to me." Donald says that when he finally moved out of the mobile home and into his car, it was simply a matter of convenience for him and had nothing to do with conditions inside the home. "It was easier to get in and out," he says.

Donald says that once in a while he discovered a dead cat or two, and he'd dispose of them in a nearby dumpster or try to give them a proper burial. On one occasion, when he couldn't, he stored them -- which, he says, is the logical explanation for the cats that the state inspectors discovered in the mobile home's freezer.

"During the winter, one of the mother cats died, and I couldn't bury it," he says. "And the small ones that had multiplied, you couldn't bury them, either. So that's how they got in the refrigerator."

He shakes his head and chuckles over the big misunderstanding. "But, of course, that gal from the Department of Agriculture made a big to-do over it."

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