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Idaho Serial Animal Abusers Convicted in Montana Cruelty Case

Idaho Serial Animal Abusers Convicted in Montana Cruelty Case  

The Idaho Humane Society commended the Flathead County Sheriff’s Department, Flathead County District Attorney’s Office and Flathead Spay and  Neuter Task Force for the rescue of 116 neglected cats last winter and the successful prosecution of the responsible parties, Edwin and Cheryl Criswell. The Criswell’s found guilty yesterday of felony aggravated animal abuse, were arrested last year for keeping the cats in unsanitary conditions and allowing them to suffer from neglect near rural Marion, Montana.

Previously, in 2006, the Idaho Humane Society and other animal welfare organizations assisted the Bonner County Sheriff’s Department in the rescue of over 400 cats kept in deplorable conditions in a squalid, unsanitary compound operated by the Criswells at a location near Blanchard, Idaho. Veterinarians were forced to euthanize hundreds of diseased and neglected cats in that case. The rescue stands as the largest single seizure of animals in state history and the Idaho Humane Society considers the incident as one of the worst known cases of animal abuse to have ever occurred in Idaho.  

At the time, the Criswells were each charged with 10 counts of animal cruelty and 10 counts of permitting an animal to go without care, both of which are misdemeanors under Idaho law. They plead guilty on all counts of animal cruelty through a plea agreement with the Bonner County District Attorney’s Office. The court imposed the mandatory minimum fine of $100 per charge – $1,000 total – for both defendants, and they were released on unsupervised probation and allowed to retain 20 cats.

The family subsequently relocated to Boundary County, Idaho where they gained local notoriety for again accumulating large numbers of cats, followed by relocation last year to a remote area in rural Flathead County, Montana near the town of Kalispell.

According to Idaho Humane Society Executive Director, Jeff Rosenthal, DVM, who testified in Kalispell regarding the Criswell’s previous offense, “While it is extremely tragic that the Criswells continued to victimize helpless animals after 2006, it is fortunate that they ultimately chose to commit animal abuse in Montana rather than Idaho. Undoubtedly, had the Criswells been arrested yet again in Idaho, which ranks among the worst three states for its weak animal cruelty laws, they would have, once again, failed to receive any significant punishment or court-ordered psychological evaluation and counseling that might prevent another offense.”

Montana, like every U.S. State except Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota, has a felony-level penalty for extreme cases of animal abuse. In Montana, the state defines aggravated cruelty as, "purposely or knowingly: kills or inflicts cruelty to an animal with the purpose of terrifying, torturing, or mutilating the animal; or inflicts cruelty to animals on a collection, kennel, or herd of 10 or more animals." Aggravated cruelty or a subsequent animal cruelty charge is punishable by a prison term of up to two years.

In contrast, Idaho only provides a misdemeanor penalty for even the most egregious cases of animal abuse, regardless of the number of animals involved or the severity of the torture inflicted upon them.

An effort lead by the organization, Idaho 1 of 3, has been underway this year to add a felony provision to Idaho’s animal abuse statute by means of a ballot initiative. If 47,000 signatures are collected in support of the initiative, the measure will appear on the November 2012 ballot. The Idaho Legislature has repeatedly failed to enact a felony animal abuse law. More information on this effort, and locations and events where Idaho residents can sign the initiative, can be found at www.idahostop.org and www.idahohumanesociety.org/

September 09, 2011

News tag(s) { Advocacy Felony Animal Cruelty Petition }