A Flathead County jury found a northwest Montana couple guilty of felony animal cruelty charges after a three-day trial this week.
Edwin and Cheryl Criswell were accused of abusing at least 97 cats authorities found living in filthy, snowed-in trailers about five miles outside of Marion last December. Both Criswells were charged with aggravated cruelty to animals.
According to charging documents, Flathead County Animal Control Officer Paul Charbonneau was dispatched to the Criswell’s camp on Dec. 17, 2010 after receiving a complaint of cat abuse and neglect.
Charbonneau found two small trailers filled with cats. During the trial, he testified that each trailer contained at least 47 to 50 felines. The trailers were covered in feces and had little food for the animals, he said.
“They were jumping everywhere,” Charbonneau said, while describing photos of the cats’ living conditions for the jury.
The trailers were snowed in and authorities had to use a snow grader to remove them once the Criswells relinquished control of their property.
Deputy County Attorney Kenneth Park asked Charbonneau about the quality of life for the animals, and whether it was abusive.
“Do you believe these cats were contained in a cruel manner?” Park asked.
“By all means,” Charbonneau responded. “They were not allowed to go outside; they had to live in filth.”
Photos from the trailers showed cramped living conditions for the cats, with overflowing litter boxes and urine-soaked baseboards in places. The trailers had wood interiors, which Charbonneau said would have been impossible to sanitize because of their absorptive properties.
Close quarters also present opportunity for disease to spread, he said, noting that many of the cats had upper respiratory infections resulting in runny eyes and noses. In some of the photos shown to the jury, cats’ eyes are swollen shut and several kittens look thin.
Charbonneau said there were only two or three small food bowls for the cats in the trailers.
Defense attorney Lane Bennett asked Charbonneau whether the Criswells should have let the cats out in the freezing weather, indicating that the couple was in a lose-lose situation with their animals.
A veterinarian determined that of the 97 cats taken from the trailers, 88 had numerous medical problems, court records state.
According to the Associated Press, the Criswells blamed other people for the situation during the trial, and Cheryl Criswell cited personal medical difficulties that winter as well.
Court records show that the Criswells have a previous animal cruelty conviction in Idaho, where they were cited for being in possession of 400 cats.
The couple is scheduled for sentencing in October. An aggravated animal cruelty conviction can result in a maximum fine of $2,500 and up to two years with the Department of Corrections.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.