Homes sought for Atwater shelter's animals

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJuly 2, 2013 

N04_MMM-SCHMITZ1

SUN-STAR PHOTO BY MARCI STENBERG Renate Schmitz holds one of the kittens being care for at her rural Atwater cat sanctuary, Last Hope Cat Kingdom. Schmitz has overcome tragedy to make her dream of a cat sanctuary come true.

MARCI STENBERG — Merced Sun-Star Buy Photo

— Nearly one week after after officials said a raid at the Last Hope Cat Kingdom turned up scores of sick and dead animals, the shelter's co-owner said she's working on finding homes for the remaining pets.

About 20 to 25 dogs and less than five cats remained at the facility Monday afternoon, according to co-founder Renate Schmitz.

"We want to get them all to a safe place and get them homes, because we're not adopting any more animals until everything is over," Schmitz said.

On Sunday, 30 dogs were shipped from the Last Hope Cat Kingdom to a San Francisco rescue group.

Schmitz declined to comment about the pending investigation, referring questions to her Merced attorney, John Garcia.

Garcia did not return calls for comment Monday.

Mike North, county management analyst, said officials haven't placed any restrictions on the 2,240-square-foot facility, although animal control officials have "strongly recommended" that it not take any more animals.

"It's premature at this point to know if any permits will be pulled," North said. "Those answers will come after the investigation is finished up."

On Wednesday, animal control officials searched the facility and seized a total of 301 animals, including 295 cats and six dogs.

About 200 animals were euthanized because they were too sick to survive, North said. An additional 74 animals were found dead at the sanctuary — some of the bodies were in freezers, while others were in cages with live animals.

A total of 91 cats and five dogs were taken alive from the shelter to an undisclosed location.

Animal control officers are in the process of gathering evidence and information, North said. The investigation could take more than a month, as the leads and phone calls continue pouring in.

Officers still have not spoken with Schmitz, who said she got back to town late Saturday.

After completing the investigation, animal services manager Rick Blackwell will meet with the investigating officer in the case — Cerissa Hultgren — to determine whether the evidence gathered will be forwarded to the district attorney's office.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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