UPDATE: Woman convicted of animal cruelty jailed for 6 months

By Melissa Correa - bio | email

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - A Chesterfield woman was sentenced today to seven years in prison, with all but six months suspended for property damage done by dozens of animals living in the home she was renting.

Patti Wheeler was taken to jail today. As part of her sentence, she can never own an animal again unless directly supervised by a licensed vet.  She still works at an animal clinic.

Wheeler will have to pay $62,940.76 for the damages the cats did to the  home.  Chesterfield animal control gets $2,940.76 to pay for the costs of clearing the scene and euthanasia of the animals. The $60,000 goes to the home owner.

Back in January Wheeler was found guilty for felony vandalism for the damages done to a home on Treely Road. She kept 50 cats inside. The animals took over and Wheeler was sleeping in her car.

After a year of court appearances, Patti Wheeler was sentenced to seven years, all but six months suspended, for one count felony vandalism, two counts of animal cruelty.

"You are responsible for when you undertake the care of an animal," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Fierro.  "You are responsible for what that animal does."

Starting Thursday, June 3rd, Wheeler will serve six months behind bars. Testimony from a clinical psychologist indicated the 53-year old has no mental illness, isn't obsessive compulsive or a hoarder.  She simply got in over-her-head; figuring the unhealthy living conditions were better than nothing. Wheeler was described as a loner too afraid to ask for help even though she works at an animal shelter.

In all, three people testified during the sentencing hearing, including Wheeler's animal clinic employer- was in shock over what happened.

"Hopefully people will understand that even if you are a good person and you didn't mean to cause harm, but if you get yourself in over your head- that you have to suffer your consequences," said Veterinarian Dr. Kathy Bauer who treated and euthanized the animals.  She is glad Wheeler will have to re-imburse the county for nearly $3,000 in expenses in addition to paying $60,000 for property damage.

Patti Wheeler's on a payment plan of $50/month until the nearly $63,000 is paid. There's also a possibility she can participate in a work-release program.

Her employer, Betty Baugh's Animal Clinic, issued the following statement:

First and foremost we regret deeply the circumstances that have led us to issue this statement.  The clinic was not aware of the situation that came to bear last year. We do not condone in any way the intentional mistreatment of animals.  However, we stand strongly with our employee and believe she possesses nothing but the best intentions for the animals.  Hundreds upon hundreds of animals have been placed in homes, have been spayed and neutered, or have received much needed medical care due to her efforts.  As noted in court earlier today, she really believed that she could help the countless numbers that exist in our community as she has done for many years.  She made a grave mistake in not asking for help when she so desperately needed it at the time and we will continue to stand behind her.

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