50 cats rescued from animal 'sanctuary,' owner charged with cruelty

An animal rescue operation owner faces a criminal charge after deputies in Ohio said they rescued 30 cats in what they called an animal-cruelty case.

>> Read more trending stories

Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones announced that Lesli Martin, 51, is facing a misdemeanor charge of cruelty to a companion animal. The sheriff's office and dog wardens served a search warrant Wednesday at Heart's Rescue Sanctuary, where they said Martin was in charge.

Jones said that 49 cats were being housed at the sanctuary. Five cats that were removed had to be euthanized, and 21 others are still at the sanctuary, under the care of different personnel.

"It's a shame it has come to this," Jones said on Facebook. "These animals were supposed to be cared for by rescue businesses. It's the basis of their existence. It's not a good day when my employees have to rescue animals from a place of rescue."

The action was taken "after several warnings were given to the owner," according to the sheriff's office. According to the dog warden's office, it had been working on the case since August.

More charges will be filed in this case, Jones' post announced.

In June of 2015, the Journal-News profiled Martin, a former treasurer with the Kings Local School District. Then, the sanctuary had 38 cats in an 810-square-foot building. Martin at the time said she started rescuing cats and dogs about 18 years earlier and opened the sanctuary in August of 2014. Some 192 cats had been adopted between January of 2013 and June of 2015, she said at the time.

"We gave Ms. Martin ample time to comply with current laws involving these animals, and she just didn't come through," said Deputy Dog Warden Kurt Merbs in the sheriff's post. "We try to help rescue businesses any way we can, including meeting with the owners, visiting the businesses and providing information on where and how to seek help with keeping healthy animals in a safe environment. Most of the cats have infections and diseases, and not all of them are treatable."

Jones encourages everyone who adopts through rescue agencies to make sure they are legitimate businesses that are genuinely caring for animals that need good homes.