General Crime

Attorney Sentenced to 5 Years Probation for Felony Animal Cruelty

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An Oakland attorney was sentenced today to five years’ probation for her felony animal cruelty conviction for failing to properly care for the more than 100 cats who lived in her home, many of which died or had to be euthanized. In sentencing 62-year-old Jan Van Dusen, Alameda County Superior Court Superior Court Judge Gloria Rhynes denied a request by Van Dusen’s lawyer, Frank Offen, that her conviction be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Offen argued that Van Dusen doesn’t have any prior convictions and has provided important services to the community as a lawyer and said a felony conviction on her record likely would cause her to be disbarred and she “would be left destitute” because she doesn’t have a source of income aside from her law practice. But Rhynes said she wouldn’t reduce Van Dusen’s conviction because she engaged in “felony conduct” by not taking good care of the cats who lived at her home on Magnolia Street in West Oakland.

Rhynes said, “I know her intention was to improve the lifestyle of the cats, but it’s indisputable that they suffered, were exposed to multiple diseases and many of them had to be euthanized because of the magnitude of the conditions” at Van Dusen’s home. 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. Animal Control officials said the conditions in Van Dusen’s home were rancid and the smell of urine and feces was overwhelming. 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 could have faced up to three years in state prison for her conviction but Rhynes said it would be more appropriate for her to be placed on probation, along with numerous conditions.

Among those are that she not own any animals, undergo mental health counseling, perform 200 hours of community service and pay a restitution fine for the cost of impounding, housing, caring for, feeding and treating the cats that were at her house. Oakland Animal Control officials are asking for about $40,000 in restitution but the amount won’t be finalized until Van Dusen has a restitution hearing in September. Rhynes found Van Dusen guilty of felony animal cruelty in a non-jury trial that ended on June 19.

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. When prosecutor Tim Burr cross-examined Van Dusen during her trial she admitted that her house smelled like urine because of all the cats that lived there but “not that much.”

She 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. Offen said in his closing argument in the case that Van Dusen “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.

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