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Woman accused of hoarding feral felines in iced-over van

Juneau cat lover alleges illegal search of van by officers

Posted: April 6, 2011 - 9:32pm

Jury selection, opening statements and first witnesses were heard in Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg’s courtroom in the case of a Juneau woman accused of hoarding feral cats.

Christen Blake is charged with one count of cruelty to animals, a class ‘B’ misdemeanor, which followed a Dec. 17, 2010 welfare check on her van parked at Auke Bay Harbor.

Criminal information filed in the case shows the Juneau Police Department conducted a welfare check and found the vehicle’s doors frozen shut as temperatures were between 10 – 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

The seven-member jury heard City Attorney August Petropulos say a strong odor came from the van when opened, and 15 cats were discovered in kennels inside.

Petropulos said one white cat was stained yellow with urine and some of the cages were frozen to the bottom of the van. He stated the jury should find Blake guilty of animal cruelty based on the theory of neglect.

Blake, representing herself and with the aid of hybrid counsel Marcus Rogers, said she was in the process of moving at the time away from a neighbor she alleged had vandalized her car.

Blake said she bought the van as a rescue vehicle and by reading the works of Mother Theresa “has learned to have a lot more hope and faith in what she was doing.”

Due to the recession it was financially out of question to move, Blake said, so the van served as her and the cat’s domicile. Blake said the Gastineau Humane Society, JPD, and Harbor staff violated her rights.

Blake said she spent more than $200,000 dollars on the cats and changed her living style to tend them.

“When do we as citizens say ‘enough is enough?’” Blake asked. “You are going to hear a lot of horrible things about me. You won’t hear me seeing a 14-year-old cat teach a younger one how to groom. My cats are gorgeous.”

Wednesday’s first witnesses were JPD Officer Carl Lundquist and Sgt. Stephen Hernandez.

Lundquist testified that the officers were concerned for safety of someone living inside. They could not see inside the van due to the amount of objects inside. A tow truck operator arrived to “jimmy” open the driver’s side door after no one responded to knocks.

The officers testified to the horrible smell of urine that could be smelled up to three feet away. When opened, the officers found the entire van filled with trash. A narrow passage way led to the back. Lundquist said he donned gloves and a mask due to the smell.

When cat noises were heard, JPD dispatch called animal control.

The city entered photo exhibits showing the iced van, the interior of the cluttered van and the kennels with cats.

Blake objected to the evidence as illegally obtained. Pallenberg admitted the evidence saying it was a question for the jury to decide.

Blake said easy cases are given to new police recruits, such as Lundquist, and questioned him on procedure.

She questioned if he used a tape recorder when interviewing harbor employees or tried to call her cell phone, and learned he did not

“Had you have shown the respect with the facts you were given, couldn’t you just place a ticket on the window?” Blake asked.

Pallenberg dismissed the jury to hear a complaint from Blake that her water containers were taken, and she said she wouldn’t prosecute those who did it if they admitted to the theft.

Blake entered a car window reflective sunscreen and the labeling that describes what it does into evidence to show what the police officers had trouble seeing through.

Blake asked if the kennels were frozen and, if the car was frozen how did they smell urine?

“It was a burn-your-eyes smell,” Hernandez said. “I directed Officer Lundquist to not stay in the van too long. It was pretty obnoxious. The threshold at the door was very pungent.”

Lundquist said they couldn’t smell the odor until the door was open because clear tape sealed in the air.

At the scene Hernandez decided that the number of cats and kennels found would be best served if the van towed to Gastineau Humane Society. At the society, the kennels and cats were unloaded.

Hernandez testified that some kennels contained feces and urine-stained newspaper.

Fifteen kennels, 17 cats, and one cat trap were removed from the van at GHS.

The jury trial will continue at 8:30 a.m. today as Blake will cross-examine Hernandez, and additional witnesses will be called.

• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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