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2 Years in Jail for Tiger Abuser

Times Staff Writer

A former animal rescuer convicted of child endangerment and animal cruelty after authorities found decomposing tigers at his Riverside County home was sentenced Tuesday to two years in county jail and five years of probation.

John Weinhart, 62, was the operator of Tiger Rescue, an animal sanctuary in Colton where visitors could pay $20 to have pictures taken with cubs. He will receive credit for 204 days already served.

When animal control authorities raided his Glen Avon home in April 2003, they found 11 tiger and leopard cubs in the attic, two alligators in the bathtub and two tigers on the front porch. In a freezer, 58 dead tiger cubs were found alongside food and tranquilizers; about 30 more dead tigers were found decomposing on the property.

Weinhart’s 8-year-old son was living at the home at the time, which led to the child endangerment charges.

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“I felt that prison was the best protection for the animals, his son and the community,” said Stephanie B. Weissman, the Riverside County deputy district attorney who prosecuted Weinhart.

Before he was sentenced, Weinhart told Judge Ronald L. Taylor that he had been overcommitted physically and mentally at the sanctuary, which led to the neglect of the animals.

“I was stressed with more tasks than I could manage,” he said.

After the sentencing hearing, Weinhart’s attorney said that having animal carcasses on a property is not illegal. “It shouldn’t have been part of the case,” said R. Addison Steele II.

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Weinhart’s wife, Marla Jean Smith, pleaded guilty to 63 counts of animal cruelty and child endangerment in January, saying she wanted to spare her son from having to testify against her.

Judy Doorbetakis, who volunteered at the sanctuary on weekends for three years, said Weinhart taught her a lot about animals.

“They’ve ruined that man,” she said tearfully afterward. “He shouldn’t go to jail at all. He’s no criminal.”

Michael Markarian, executive vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, said he would have preferred more jail time.

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“We were pleased that some jail time was included,” he said. “It sends a strong message that if you abuse animals, you don’t get a slap on the wrist, you go to jail.”

Taylor ordered that Weinhart not own, possess, care for or volunteer in a place with animals, and that he stay 50 yards away from exotic cats.

He is also to receive psychological counseling and attend anger management and parenting classes.


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