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Couple convicted of animal cruelty

Criswells part of high-profile case in Idaho in 2006

KALISPELL, Mont. – A northwestern Montana couple with a previous animal cruelty conviction in North Idaho have been found guilty of aggravated cruelty to animals after 116 cats were found living in filthy, snowbound trailers near Marion last December.

Jurors deliberated for about two hours before returning the verdicts against Edwin and Cheryl Criswell on Thursday night, the Daily Inter Lake reported.

District Judge David Ortley scheduled sentencing for Oct. 20. He also said he would schedule a hearing as soon as possible to consider releasing the 25 cats being held as evidence to the Flathead County Animal Shelter for adoption.

In the Idaho case, the Criswells entered Alford pleas to 10 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty in September 2006 in what officials called the largest animal hoarding case in state history. The Humane Society of the United States rescued more than 430 animals from squalid conditions at the couple’s home in Blanchard, Idaho. More than half of the animals had to be euthanized “due to severe illness, disease and suffering,” the Humane Society said.

They were each fined $1,000 and put on unsupervised probation for two years. They were also forbidden from having more than 20 pets in their care.

In the recent Montana case, the owner of another animal rescue organization, All Mosta Ranch, testified Tuesday that she became aware of the Criswells in spring or early summer 2010. Katherine Flentge Borton said the Criswells told her they had recently moved to the area, were running a nonprofit cat sanctuary and were interested in funding sources.

Flentge Borton said the Criswells’ requests for help eventually turned desperate as the couple said they were running out of food for the animals and themselves and Cheryl Criswell’s health was deteriorating. It was then that she learned they had more than 100 cats.

She said she eventually was allowed to see the Criswells’ campsite, where she quickly noticed a “horrible stench.” She said the animals were living in trailers that smelled of feces and ammonia and the cats were dehydrated and emaciated. One trailer smelled like diesel fuel, she said.

“It was a very desperate situation for all of them,” Flentge Borton said.

The Criswells blamed other people in the rescue effort for the cruelty charges, including an animal control officer and Flentge Borton.

“There was absolutely no (legal) problem … until we got Kate involved,” Edwin Criswell said.

Cheryl Criswell said: “We were lied to and deceived.” She later added they were “also lied to and deceived in Idaho.”