Unlucky Fate : Animals City Rescued Will Face Death Penalty if Not Adopted Soon

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mary Lou Rossignol and the city Department of Animal Regulation can agree on at least one thing: They had both sought the best for the 140 cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, rats, goats and box turtles that once lived at Mary Lou's Dogpatch Kennel.

Rossignol had accumulated her menagerie over 10 years, visiting area shelters to save from extermination the old, sick and unruly animals nobody wanted. Inspectors seized the animals last May during a high-profile raid they described as a rescue from cruel treatment and unsanitary conditions at Rossignol's now-defunct animal shelter.

Now, those same city officials may end up killing the animals they sought to save.

Already, 25 animals have died or been killed under the city's care. The remaining animals will be put up for adoption Saturday, and unless new homes are found, they, too, will be killed.

"The kennel was dirty, I admit to that, but the animals were not suffering. I was trying to protect them," said Rossignol, a 59-year-old Michigan native. She breaks into tears at the memory of pets such as Lady, a blind cocker spaniel killed by lethal injection, and Cuddles, a 9-year-old Lhasa apso not likely to be adopted because she bites.

In last year's raid, city inspectors, accompanied by City Councilman Richard Alarcon and a gaggle of reporters, accused Rossignol of mistreating the animals by keeping them in overcrowded dirty cages with inadequate water.

A Van Nuys Municipal Court jury, after an eight-day trial last month, acquitted Rossignol of the more serious animal cruelty charge, which could have landed her in jail for one year.

The jury deadlocked on a separate animal neglect charge but found Rossignol guilty of posing a health hazard to both her animals and the public by maintaining filthy, rodent-conducive conditions at the shelter, a former turkey farm where she lived.

As punishment, Rossignol was ordered to perform 300 hours of community service at a licensed kennel.

"The place was in very bad shape, but the jury did not believe that this woman, who was taking in strays that nobody else wanted at great personal expense, was guilty of negligence or cruelty," said Daniel Zara, Rossignol's court-appointed attorney.

Ironically, the trial's outcome means Rossignol could be entitled to get her animals back--that is, if she can find a kennel to house them. After her license was revoked in May, she has been prohibited from earning income from boarding and pet adoptions. As a result, Rossignol said, she was unable to pay the $900-a-month rent on the turkey farm and was evicted.

She said she cannot afford a property large enough to house the animals.

Robert Sessa--a Westside stockbroker who befriended Rossignol three years ago after seeing a TV news program about her shelter--also questions the outcome of the city raid.

"At a time when the city is coming apart at the seams, here is a lady who was doing a public service, taking in animals that have been abused or passed around. Basically, this was their last stop before being killed," said Sessa, who is helping Rossignol raise money for a new shelter.

City officials defend the raid as a necessary health measure, but acknowledge it has been costly.

"Unsanitary conditions can spread all kinds of diseases among animals, so it's important that cages and runs be kept clean," said Peter Persic, a spokesman for the animal regulation department.

The case has so far cost the city about $140,000, including the salaries of eight part-time workers who were hired to care for Rossignol's brood, said Lt. Robert Pena of the department's East Valley facility.

In addition, seizing Rossignol's animals has filled the city's own shelters, which meant some other animals "were probably put down because we did not have enough room," Pena said.

As for the fate of the animals being put up for adoption at the department's downtown shelter, Pena said the department "will make an all-out effort to place every one."

"We didn't come this far just to kill them," he said.

The animals will be made available Saturday at the North Central shelter, open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 3201 Lacey St., Los Angeles.

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