The attorney for Renate Schmitz, co-owner of the Last Hope Cat Kingdom, spoke out Tuesday about allegations that his client harbored dozens of dead and sick animals at her rescue facility.
John Garcia, a Merced attorney, said Schmitz is "devastated" by the situation because "she's put in so much effort and heart into being a rescuer to poor, unfortunate animals."
The county's animal control served a search warrant at the facility last Wednesday and seized 301 animals, including 295 cats and six dogs.
About 200 animals were euthanized because they were too sick to survive, and 74 were found dead at the facility.
Garcia maintains Schmitz didn't do anything wrong and was unaware of the conditions at the facility because she had been out of town.
"My client was out of the area on a vacation when the place was taken over," Garcia said. "So as far as I know, she had no specific knowledge about what the actual conditions were at the time."
Schmitz would not comment on her location or length of absence Tuesday, but confirmed she was not present during last week's raid.
Garcia said he advised Schmitz not to adopt or accept any more animals until the case is resolved. Animal control officials made the same recommendation earlier this week, according to the county.
Although Garcia said he hasn't seen the county's documentation from the search, he said he's prepared to represent Schmitz in court if criminal charges are filed.
"Certainly, we've consulted, I stand ready to advise her and represent her in the event that something is going to be filed," he said.
County officials said last week some of the 74 dead animals were found in freezers, while others were in cages with live animals.
Schmitz, who hasn't directly responded to the allegations, specifically disputed the claim that dead pets were in cages with the live ones.
She said her volunteers put two sick cats in one cage Tuesday night because it was too late to take them to the vet. One of the animals died overnight, and was found the next morning by animal control officers.
Meanwhile, county officials are continuing their investigation and will meet with Schmitz today to discuss what will happen to the seized animals.
Anyone with information regarding conditions at Last Hope Cat Kingdom or anyone who has adopted animals from the site and has noticed illness that may require veterinary treatment is asked to call officer Cerissa Hultgren of Merced County Animal Control at (209) 385-7436.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.