Texas: Hearing set in seizure of big cats, other animals

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Hearing set in animal seizure

By Robin Y. Richardson, News Messenger

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A hearing is set for 11 a.m. Thursday in Marion County in the animal cruelty case of Barbara Hoffman, 58, and Fred Lulling of Jefferson.

Marion County and state officials seized more than 50 wild, domestic and exotic animals from the couple’s property, 950 Lewis Chapel Road, last Wednesday after receiving a tip about them harboring large cats. Ms. Hoffman, a former circus queen, and Lulling, her business partner, was arrested for six counts of animal cruelty.

“This is a hearing to show (cause) for the JP (justice of the peace) to make a decision on the (disposition) of the animals,” said Caroline Wedding, president of the Humane Society of Marion County. She accompanied the sheriff’s department to last week’s seizure.

“We hope the county and Humane Society will be awarded custody,” she said.

Ms. Wedding said she will present in court a list of animals seized and the current medical conditions that were uncovered after the seizure.

She said one of the dogs, which she took to be groomed, is blind and at least partially deaf. She said the other dogs were basically using him as a urine pad.

“He was skin and bones and so matted,” Ms. Wedding said. “He’s on his way to being much better.” The Humane Society president said several nonprofit organizations and rescue groups are willing to take the animals if they are awarded to the county and the Humane Society.

“They will live in great conditions if this happens,” Ms. Wedding said.

If the county and Humane Society are awarded custody, Ms. Wedding said Ms. Hoffman does have the right to appeal. And in the meantime, “she’ll have to post a cost-bond to cover the expenses for us to have to house these animals.

“If it is appealed, it’d go to the county court,” Ms. Wedding said. “From the way it sounds, I can assure you the court system would do everything right for these animals.”

Animals seized during the raid included 10 caged wild cats — six tigers, one cougar, two black panthers and one spotted leopard — and about 20 dogs, dozens of cats, reptiles, a diseased monkey, mice, eight chickens, geese, guinea pigs, six goats, miniature horses, Shetland ponies and a turkey to name a few.

The animals are in the custody of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Bill McCay explained when Ms. Hoffman, deed owner of the property and animals, moved to Jefferson she should have informed the sheriff’s office about her animals.

“She never requested a permit or applied for a permit,” McCay said previously. “The sheriff’s (office) is responsible for all wild animals. She never contacted my office about anything. She didn’t follow proper procedures nor did she have the proper paperwork.”

The animals were found living in small cages in at least three RVs and semi-trailers that reeked of ammonia and urine. Ms. Hoffman and Lulling seemed to be living in one of the RVs filled with about a dozen cats, a sugar glider, six doves, three guinea pigs, parrots, pigeons, a wallaby, turtles, tarantulas, a coatimundi, iguanas, four boa constrictors, mice and a raccoon.

Ms. Hoffman had moved to Marion County a few weeks ago after being kicked out of Edinburg for the same thing. According to an article published on 911animalabuse.com, a state district judge had ruled against her and Lulling in their ongoing fight to keep their wild cats on a rented property within the city limits.

The city of Edingburg had previously ordered Ms. Hoffman to move her animals off the premises by the end of the year because they violated zoning ordinances and posed a safety risk.

The article noted Ms. Hoffman had planned to open the wildlife sanctuary after moving to an eight-acre plot along North U.S. 281 in Edingburg. She had started setting up permanent cages for her big cats, drafting plans for the facility and planning events when the city denied her permit requests.

“The refusal sparked a legal challenge in which Hoffman and Lulling argued that the zoning board incorrectly characterized the animals as pets,” the article indicates.

The business partners asked the court to order the city to reconsider.

However, State District Judge Rudy Delgado threw out their petition in April saying they had failed to follow protocol and file their suit in a timely manner.

The two had also failed to register their animals with the city, state and U.S. Department of Agriculture by a city-imposed deadline.

Ms. Hoffman said she had planned to present educational programs in Marion County and educate youth about the animals.

Marion County District Attorney Bill Gleason said under the law, Ms. Hoffman can be cited for a Class C misdemeanor for not following regulations and sued by Marion County for fines up to $2,000 per day per animal.



Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org

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