Volunteers say justice not served

Volunteers say justice not served

Originally published on February 19, 2010

volunteers who blew the whistle on flock cry over dismissal of animal abuse case
Denise Davis, right, cries on the shoulder of Cheryl Runyon. These volunteers from Pahrump at the FLOCK sanctuary for cats alerted Nye County Animal Control to the untenable conditions at the compound.


Justice of the Peace Kent Jasperson’s small Pahrump courtroom was nearly filled to capacity last week with former FLOCK volunteers, Best Friends Animal Society volunteers and individual animal lovers.

Some of the volunteers traveled from neighboring states to testify in the case of the State vs. For the Love Of Cats and Kittens.

The volunteers had helped to rescue the 764 sickly, malnourished, disease-ridden cats found at the FLOCK cat sanctuary in July 2007.

At the time, Sheri Allen was president of FLOCK and responsible for the day-to-day operation of the facility. She subsequently was charged with animal cruelty and neglect in a different case having to do with the removal of more than 100 cats from her home in August 2007.

According to Attorney Tom Gibson, who represented Allen, some of the cats at her home were found dead and others were dying. She pleaded guilty to reduced charges and was sentenced by Justice of the Peace Tina Brisebill to one year in jail. Allen was then granted a suspended sentence with 40 hours of community service in 2008.

In a courthouse interview, Gibson, who also acted as the corporate counsel for FLOCK, said the executive board “didn’t know they had put the organization in the hands of the wrong person. We were aiding the police and Animal Control because the people I represent love cats.”

Allen also loves cats. In fact, everyone involved with the sanctuary claims to love animals, yet almost 800 cats were kept fenced into a large dusty compound so covered with feces that the ground had to be bulldozed.

Volunteers said there was little or no food or water at the site and the uninsulated clapboard huts that provided the only protection from the elements for the cats had to be drenched with bleach before volunteers could work in the area.

Pahrump veterinarian Suzanne Zervantian, a member of Nye County’s Animal Advisory Board, closed her practice for the day after being subpoenaed to testify for the state. She was among about 14 others who were not able to tell their versions of what happened.

“FLOCK was like a death camp for cats,” she said outside the courtroom.

When Jasperson dismissed the case, only Gibson seemed pleased with the verdict. Jasperson sounded perturbed at the district attorney’s office, Deputy District Attorney Robert Bettinger was consoling his witnesses and others in the courtroom seemed stunned. Many were in tears, including Zervantian.

Whistleblowers Denise Davis and Cheryl Runyon, who first alerted Animal Control to conditions at the so-called sanctuary, described cats with putrid open sores, bloodstained fur and eyes covered with maggots. The women pulled photographs from their bags to prove their claims that justice was not served by dismissing the case.

Patti Broun, who drove from Southern California to the hearing, said what little food was left for the cats was crawling with ants. She alleged FLOCK members knew what was happening even before Best Friends Animal Society arrived to rescue the animals. Davis and Runyon agreed.

Yet, Nye County Animal Control Supervisor Tim McCarty, who decided against attending last week’s hearing, said in a brief interview this week that “something marvelous happened in Pahrump” that should not be overlooked.

McCarty was instrumental in finding Best Friends, whose volunteers, joined by Pahrump volunteers, cleaned the fetid facilities and spent seven months nursing the majority of the cats to health.

Volunteers from the organization also held numerous adoption events until most of the animals found new homes. Many volunteers took cats home to continue treatment, although about 60 cats died from leukemia that ran rampant and was untreated at the FLOCK facility.

“The magic happened and 764 cats were rescued,” McCarty said, adding that if the cats had gone to the county’s animal shelter, they all would have been put down as there was no way to house and treat them.

“It was all to do with timing,” he said. “The magic was finding an organization willing to spend a million dollars on rescuing the cats and taking care of the triage and medical treatment. I understand that people want justice, but I’ve found it’s better to seek mercy than to seek justice.”

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