Woman's 115 Pets Face Death if Not Adopted

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mary Lou Rossignol and the Los Angeles 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 in Sun Valley.

Rossignol had created her menagerie over 10 years, visiting area shelters to save from extermination the old, sick and unruly animals nobody wanted. But inspectors seized the animals during a high-profile raid on her now-defunct animal shelter in May to rescue them from what they described as cruel treatment and unsanitary conditions.

Now, the 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 who has been killed by lethal injection, and Cuddles, a 9-year-old Lhasa apso not likely to be adopted because she likes to bite people.

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

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

The jury deadlocked on a separate animal neglect charge and found Rossignol guilty of posing a health hazard to her animals and the public for 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 After her license was revoked in May, she was no longer able to earn income from boarding and pet adoptions. As a result, Rossignol said, she was unable to pay her $900-a-month rent 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 result of the city's 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.

The case has cost the city about $140,000.

Rossignol's animals filled the city's own shelters, which meant that some other animals "were probably put down because we did not have enough room," said Lt. Robert Pena of the department's East Valley facility.

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

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