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Oakland cat lady convicted of cruelty

An Oakland attorney was convicted today of felony animal cruelty for failing to properly care for the more than 100 cats who lived in her home in West Oakland, many of whom died or had to be euthanized.

In announcing her finding against 62-year-old Jan Van Dusen in her non-jury trial, Alameda County Superior Court Superior Court Judge Gloria Rhynes said Van Dusen subjected the cats in her home to “needless suffering” and acted “in a grossly negligent manner.”

Oakland Animal Control officers who raided Van Dusen’s house on Magnolia Street in October 2011 said they found about 100 cats, most of them feral, including 11 cats that were dead and had been placed in a freezer.

Another 18 cats had to be euthanized because they couldn’t be treated and most of the remaining cats also had developed medical problems, animal officials said.

Van Dusen contended at her trial that she didn’t do anything illegal and that she took in sick and homeless cats that no one else wanted.

Van Dusen, who remains free on her own recognizance, could face up to three years in state prison when Rhynes sentences her on July 25 but court officials indicated that the most likely outcome is that she will be placed on probation.

However, her felony conviction means that the state bar could suspend or disbar her. The trial was the second for Van Dusen. Her first trial ended in a mistrial last year when jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of convicting her. Oakland Animal Control officials said the conditions in Van Dusen’s home were rancid and the smell of urine and feces was overwhelming.

Under cross-examination by prosecutor Tim Burr last week, Van Dusen admitted that her house smelled like urine because of all the cats that lived there but “not that much.”

Van Dusen conceded that some of the cats she was caring for suffered from diarrhea but claimed that the diarrhea problem spread only because of the negligence of a friend she had hired to help take care of the cats.

Van Dusen’s attorney, Frank Offen, said in his closing argument today that she “had been taking good care of the cats” until October 2011, when he said things “went haywire” because her friend didn’t follow through on his commitment to help take care of them.

Offen said Van Dusen wasn’t able to stay home and take care of the cats in October 2011 because she was busy with a trial in Martinez. He said:

“If she didn’t go to work, she couldn’t buy food or medication for the cats and pay the water bill and the mortgage.”

But Rhynes said the fact that Van Dusen was busy with a trial in Martinez “does not absolve her of criminal conduct.” Rhynes said “the magnitude of the conditions and the magnitude of the suffering” led her to find Van Dusen of felony animal abuse.

“Witness after witness testified about the horrific conditions,” Rhynes said. The cats “needed food, water and shelter in order to have a meaningful quality of life,” Rhynes said.

— Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News

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