CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - After reviewing the photos snapped of Patti Wheeler's home, a Chesterfield judge admitted, they're the most disturbing images he's ever seen. Still, a neighbor, who saw this investigation unfold, says Patti Wheeler is a wonderful woman, who let her love of animals get the best of her.
For five years one neighbor, who didn't want to be identified, watched as Patti Wheeler came in and out of the house on Treely Road.
"I remember wondering what was going on. Because there were police and people from Animal Control all over the place," said the neighbor.
Back in May authorities seized nearly 60 cats and 4 dogs. A veterinarian testified, 33 cats and 2 dogs were euthanized due to serious medical conditions.
"I don't think she intentionally harmed any of them. I just think she was kind of overwhelmed and tried to take in every one she saw maybe," the neighbor said.
One neighbor's opinion is a defense attorney's tactic.
"I think I put it as best I could, it was her compassion and her desire to help; it just turned around on her and snowballed out of control," said John Rockecharlie, Defense Attorney.
John Rockecharlie says Patti Wheeler constantly checked up on the animals. But an Animal Control officer testified kiddy pools were turned into mega litter boxes that weren't cleaned. The remains of three dead cats were found near another cat that had just given birth to kittens and feces covered the floor.
"It is a paradox that I have yet to get to the bottom of, in that here is a woman who wants to do so much good and yet it just turned into something that ended up being so bad," said Rockecharlie.
Wheeler works for a vet clinic, but Rockecharlie says she never reached out for help. He says the animals took control over the couch, forcing her to sleep in her car.
"Pets are wonderful and a lot of company, but sometimes I think anybody can get over their head," said the neighbor.
Wheeler must pay $800 in fines and is sentenced to serve one year in jail. Her attorney is appealing the five guilty verdicts for animal cruelty, so she won't go behind bars until that appeal is heard. Next month, a separate case involving the damages to the home she was renting, will go before a grand jury.