Atwater's Last Hope Cat Kingdom shelter hearing scheduled for Monday

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comDecember 13, 2013 

— The permit hearing for Last Hope Cat Kingdom will be held 8:30 a.m. Monday, and county officials are expected to recommend the shelter’s permit – which allows it to have more than five animals – be revoked.

The hearing will be inside the board chamber on the third floor of the Merced County Administration Building, 2222 M St.

A report released on Friday outlined staff’s recommendation to revoke Last Hope’s permit over “non-compliance with conditions of approval and, or conducting the use so as to be a nuisance or detrimental to the public health, welfare or safety.”

The Atwater-based animal rescue site became the subject of a criminal investigation after Merced County Animal Control officials said they found sick and dead animals there in June. Of the 301 animals seized, there were 295 cats and six dogs. Veterinarians euthanized 200 animals, saying they were “too sick to survive.”

The hearing Monday will start with a staff presentation made by Jeff Wilson, code enforcement manager at the county’s planning department, which will include photographs and other details about the seizure.

Last Hope Cat Kingdom co-owner Renate Schmitz or her representative will have an opportunity to respond and make a case for why the permit should be kept intact. Public comment will be limited to five minutes per person.

One of three decisions can be made: to revoke the permit, to modify the permit, or to keep it the same. A revocation would mean Schmitz can no longer keep more than five animals; a modification would limit the number of animals allowed by the permit, currently 125 cats and no dogs.

A decision is expected either that day or a “reasonable time” soon after, according to officials.

In an interview with the Merced Sun-Star last week, the case’s hearing officer, Mark Hendrickson, said he is going into the hearing on Monday with an open mind.

“I have a firm belief that every permit holder should have an ability to voice reasons for why their permit should be maintained,” Hendrickson said on Dec. 6. “I feel very confident heading into it that everybody will be given equal opportunity to voice their opinions.”

Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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