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Warden: ‘There were 40 to 50 cats running free … it was horrible’

Months after being charged with six counts of animal cruelty, Lesli Martin, owner of Heart’s Rescue Sanctuary, finally had her day in court.

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A search warrant was served Nov. 30 at Martin’s rescue, then located at a store front in Middletown Shopping Center, and 50 cats were found. About 28 cats that were sick and injured were seized from the shelter, according to records.

One cat and six kittens were euthanized because a veterinarian determined they were suffering from multiple medical conditions, including ring worm and flea anemia. Those animals are the basis of the charges against Martin, 51.

But, deputy dog wardens testified Thursday in court that the investigation began long before November.

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During a bench trial in Middletown Municipal Court, Deputy Dog Warden Jamie Hearlihy testified the office received a complaint about the condition of the animals at the shelter and she went there to investigate on Aug. 3, 2016.

“I could smell urine and feces outside,” Hearlihy testified. “There were 40 to 50 cats running free … it was horrible.”

The deputy dog warden said most of the cats were sick, with “goop” in their eyes, discharge from their noses, and some were missing hair, which she said is a symptom of ring worm.

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Hearlihy said she issued Martin a human warning to clean the shelter and get the sick cats to a veterinarian. The deputy dog warden said Martin indicated she needed more time, which she was granted.

Hearlihy said Martin could not provide any records of veterinary care for the cats.

Over the next several months, Hearlihy and another deputy dog warden said they visited the rescue shelter and found little to no improvement. Martin was issued additional humane warnings and surrendered 10 animals after one visit.

Because the situation was not improving, Hearlihy sought the search warrant in November and charges were filed several days later.

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Martin testified that when she arrived in the morning after the cats had been alone for hours, “there was a mess.”

She said the deputy dog wardens always visited in the morning, before the rescue’s routine cleaning had been completed.

Martin’s daughter, Jessica Benjamin, testified that she and other volunteers routinely cleaned the shelter.

Martin said she did have records and schedules of medication for each cats, but she could not use the computer at the shelter “because the cats liked to lay on the computer.” Because of that, she would take notes and enter them when she got home, she testified.

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“I run a rescue that takes in abandoned, abused and sick cats,” Martin said, adding she did take sick animals to a veterinarian for treatment. In 2016, the total veterinarian bill was $36,000, she said.

Martin said the kittens and cat that are part of the abuse charges were taken to a veterinarian about two weeks before the search warrant was served.

Prosecutors pointed to the lack of verified veterinarian records on the felines in question, as well as others.

Judge Melynda Cook-Howard said she would issued a written decision. All charges against Martin are first-degree misdemeanors, punishable by a maximum of 180 days in jail.

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