Celebrated animal hospice hit with charges of cruelty

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DELHI, N.Y. — Susan Marino started Angel’s Gate Hospice for Animals more than a decade ago to care for animals with special needs: dogs paralyzed after being hit by cars; cats with severe deformities; a Labrador retriever born without lower limbs, now fitted with orthotics.

A registered nurse who for more than 35 years specialized in emergency and critical care, mental health, and the care of critically and terminally ill children and their families, Ms. Marino went back to school and became a veterinary technician, got a certification in canine rehabilitation and a license to rehabilitate wildlife, and had her efforts noticed by Oprah Winfrey and Rachael Ray.

Miss Winfrey did a segment on Angel’s Gate; Ms. Marino’s center won $50,000 from the Food Network star. There was an appearance on Martha Stewart’s show, an ASPCA Founder’s award and a Woman of Distinction honor from the state of New York.

Not all the attention was welcomed. The hospice came under fire from animal rights activists whose undercover investigation led to five cruelty charges against Ms. Marino.

Acting on a tip from a job applicant, an animal-rights group sent an undercover agent posing as a volunteer to scout the 100-acre ranch in rural upstate New York that 75 dogs, 230 cats, three horses and nine birds currently call home. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the investigation found paralyzed dogs dragging themselves around until they developed bloody skin ulcers while their wheeled carts hung on a fence unused; animals kept in diapers for several days, causing urine scald; and animals with open wounds and respiratory infections that weren’t taken to a veterinarian.

They turned over the video to a local prosecutor who charged Ms. Marino on Dec. 30 with failing to provide sustenance to five cats, a violation of the state’s agriculture and markets law. The district attorney also charged her with possession of a controlled substance. They’re all misdemeanors that carry up to a year in jail and/or up to a $1,000 fine.

Ms. Marino said the PETA video is edited in some places to give a misleading impression. She disputes claims that animals were neglected, and says many of PETA’s complaints amount to little more than a philosophical disagreement over whether a damaged animal should live or die.

Acting on PETA’s 27-page complaint, investigators from the county district attorney’s office searched Angel’s Gate in May.

“They had a warrant to remove any animal they deemed not properly cared for,” Ms. Marino said in a recent interview. “They never removed any animal from here.”

Holly Cheever, an Albany-area veterinarian with 30 years of experience in animal cruelty investigations, assisted in the probe of Angel’s Gate. She told the Associated Press that she cited about a dozen animals that should have been humanely euthanized, including cats with active cases of feline AIDS.

She called Ms. Marino an animal hoarder and Angel’s Gate a death camp.

“Hospice is a temporary situation that leads to humane euthanasia when the quality of life is no longer acceptable,” Miss Cheever said. “With Marino, they’re essentially trapped inside of suffering bodies without the compassion to end their suffering. That’s a hallmark of the hoarder. They refuse to recognize suffering.”

After charges were filed, Ms. Marino invited a reporter to make a second trip to Angel’s Gate; her lawyer later instructed her to cancel the visit and decline interviews.

“I’ve had death threats,” Ms. Marino said before her lawyer intervened. “All I’ve ever wanted to do was do something good for these animals.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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