Cathie Warren, found guilty in April of eight felony animal cruelty charges and one misdemeanor animal cruelty charge, was sentenced Tuesday, June 6 in 19th Judicial District Court in Libby.
Judge Matthew J. Cuffe imposed the sentence of two years per felony count for a total of 16 years of probation, all to run consecutive. For the misdemeanor count he sentenced Warren to the standard sentence of six months in jail, which shall run concurrent, and a $5,000 fine. Warren is also responsible for paying $67,432.42 restitution to Lincoln County during her probation. In addition, Warren must forfeit all the animals seized from her property in August 2016, including puppies born in custody.
“Ms. Warren, you may not own, possess or care for animals for 16 years, but Mr. Odegaard (Warren’s husband) shall be allowed to possess and care for his Red Labrador, which cannot have puppies during the length of your sentence,” Cuffe said in sentencing Warren. He added, “Mr. Odegaard you are to have possession of dog when at work or out of town.” Judge Cuffe ended by saying “This sentence is more appropriate than incarceration.”
Warren was originally charged on August 22, 2016. Earlier that summer officials seized 54 dogs, six donkeys and dozens of other animals from her property outside Libby after her care of those animals came into question after an inspection by county health officials on April 21, 2016. The case went to trial in April 2017.
At Warren’s sentencing Assistant County Attorney Jeff Zwang presented testimony from several witnesses. Steve Watson, adult probation and patrol officer for the State of Montana, testified that he had written a Pre-Sentence Investigation Report (PSI) on Warren with specific recommendations. He recommended a suspended sentence of two years on each felony count to run consecutively for a total of 16 years. The misdemeanor charge would run concurrent to the felony sentence with all of it suspended. Warren would be given credit for time served of 33 days. Warren would not be allowed to own, posses or care for any animals during the time of her probation. Watson also recommended $72,109 in restitution to Lincoln County Health Department, the victim in this case. Watson felt the sentence was fair because Warren had not accepted any accountability for the health and care of the animals. He also felt it would give her a chance to prove herself in the community and get the rehabilitation needed to care for animals after the 16 years of probation.
Kathi Hooper, director of the Lincoln County Health Department, testified to the victim restitution affidavit that was filed with the PSI. Hooper testified that Lincoln County had been hit hard with the care and expenses of sheltering 67 dogs — the 54 originally seized and 13 puppies born afterward — and six donkeys. The cost of care for the animals from August 2016 through the present had totaled $72,109. This included veterinary care, food, cleaning, contracted shelter accommodations with Lincoln County Animal Shelter and the Tobacco Valley Animal Shelter, wages and overtime, travel and lost revenue.
In February 2017, foster care was provided for many of the dogs and all six donkeys, which brought the costs for the county down considerably.
Warren’s defense counsel, Ryan Peabody, called several character witnesses to the stand regarding the defendant’s interaction, treatment and care of her animals. All witnesses testified that the dogs and donkeys had been well cared for and Warren was very attentive to her animal’s needs.
Warren’s husband, Michael Odegaard, testified about the animals he and his wife had on their property. Odegaard testified that he had been given a red Labrador puppy, Penny, from his wife as a gift. The dog, registered with the American Kennel Club, had been seized along with the other dogs and donkey.
Zwang began his closing arguments by asking the court to sentence Warren to the recommendations of the PSI.
“This is not about deciding if Ms. Warren is a good or bad person,” he said. “It is about her conduct and care of animals that were in her possession. The condition of the animals was deplorable when the animals were seized in August 2016.”
In his closing arguments, Peabody asked the court to reduce the restitution that the State was asking Warren to repay to Lincoln County, He also asked the court to reduce the suspended sentence to one year on each count that Warren was found guilty of.
“Ms. Warren would be 70 when she was off probation if sentenced to eight years rather than 16 years,” Peabody said.
Peabody agreed she had some disconnection from the case but had no ill will.
“It is a case where she had too many animals and it escalated,” he acknowledged. “She lost control and the ability to care for the number of dogs in her possession.”
Peabody also asked the court to allow Odegaard to keep his Labrador.
When Warren addressed the court, she said she had been trying to hire part- or full-time help in August 2016. She asked that the court allow her husband to keep his dog. She also asked the court to allow her to have one of her dogs back as a service dog to help with the emotional issues she was going through. She requested a black and tan poodle that she had imported from Russia to comfort her during the difficult days going forward.
Peabody ended by saying that Warren was going to appeal this sentence and requested a stay of the judgment. Cuffe said he would not stay the judgment although counsel for Warren could certainly file a motion for his request to do so.
“Can I give Lincoln County advice to adopt out the dogs?” Zwang asked.
“I did not stay the judgment,” Cuffe responded, indicating the animals could be adopted.