OAKLAND -- An Oakland attorney who considered herself a rescuer of unwanted, sick and elderly cats was convicted Thursday of felony animal cruelty and neglect for keeping about 100 cats in her home in "horrific" conditions that a prosecutor says led to needless suffering and death.
"It's the magnitude of the conditions in which these animals existed, it's the magnitude of the suffering that leads the court to say this was needless suffering," Judge Gloria Rhynes said upon finding 62-year-old Jan Van Dusen guilty.
Van Dusen waived the right to have her case heard by a jury at the retrial that followed her 2013 mistrial by hung jury. She faces punishment ranging from probation to up to three years in prison at her sentencing July 25. Van Dusen and her attorney, Frank Offen, declined to comment on the conviction Thursday.
Oakland Animal Services raided Van Dusen's 1,400-square foot Magnolia Street home in West Oakland in October 2011 and found 93 live cats with a wide range of health problems, 11 dead cats in a freezer and two dogs. Eighteen of the cats had to be euthanized over the next month.
Witnesses described an eye-watering scent of urine and a lack of adequate food and water. One veterinarian testified that the conditions were so poor that a healthy cat brought into that environment was guaranteed to get sick.
Offen argued that the conditions in Van Dusen's house were only poor the week of the Animal Services raid and that was due to a "major diarrhea outbreak" that she was trying to manage with helpers while she litigated a trial in Martinez. Van Dusen otherwise had a history of taking good care of the cats, he said. She fed and gave them water and medication and had been trying to reduce her cat population as she had promised Animal Services before the raid, he said.
"She wasn't going to throw these cats on the street," Offen said.
Prosecutor Timothy Burr argued the cats would have been better off there.
"How can an owner prevent death or injury when she doesn't even know how many cats she has?" Burr asked during his closing argument Thursday.
The felony conviction means Van Dusen could be disbarred or suspended from practicing law pending a review of the case by the State Bar Court, said Laura Ernde, spokeswoman for the State Bar of California.
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.