NEWARK, N. J. – A woman whose house was inhabited by hungry cats that had eaten some of their own to survive will have to go back to the court to see if they can avoid a trial and possible imprisonment.
A New Jersey state appeals court ruled Monday that a judge erred last year when he allowed Jill Petruska to a pretrial intervention program that would have allowed her to eventually clear her record if they meet certain conditions.
Researchers removed 13 live cats of Petruska’s Nutley apartment in 2016 and it is estimated that 12 others had died, although she said that getting an accurate number was difficult, because parts of animals, were strewn around. Nutley is about 8 miles (12 kilometers) from the center of Newark.
Petruska said that they would have been gone, and to care for a sick family member, but had stopped by periodically to care for the cats. She was charged with 26 counts of animal cruelty. A telephone message was left Monday for the lawyer.
According to Monday’s court filing, the stench of the cadavers and the cat excrement was so strong that the police had the fire department’s ventilation equipment and wear hazardous materials suits to enter the apartment.
A veterinarian testified to a grand jury that some of the cats had given birth in the apartment eaten and their offspring to survive, the court said.
In the beginning of 2018, despite the opposition of the public prosecutor, a judge granted Petruska’s application for admission into a pretrial program that forbade her from owning or caring for animals for two years and required her to perform 200 hours of community service and undergo counseling.
Monday, the court did not agree with how the prosecutors used state guidelines Petruska’s request, but nevertheless sent the case back to be heard by a different judge. In particular, points to the original judge’s refusal to look at photos of the apartment in which the terminated animals.
“These circumstances certainly do not evolve over a short period of time and denies defendant’s claim to have regularly stopped by the apartment to feed the cats or to arrange for someone else to take care of the cats,” the court of appeal has written.