After a week long trial with two days of jury deliberation, Wydell Dixon was found guilty of felony animal cruelty on Saturday, January 19, in a decision that holds her responsible for the horrific conditions and extreme neglect of the cats held within the sanctuary building she owned. The jury was deadlocked at the end of the day on Friday, but returned with their verdict at noon the next day. The Galveston Daily News reports that a bomb threat was called in to the hotel where the jury was housed during deliberations. Sentencing is expected within the next couple of weeks. Each charge carries possible punishment of from 180 days in county jail to two years in state prison with a possible fine of up to $10,000
It has been just over a year since Texas City, Texas police and Animal Control responded to a horrified neighbor’s report and raided Wydell Dixon’s Whiskerville Animal Sanctuary in Texas City on January 3, 2012, taking away close to 200 live cats and 27 dead. The so-called sanctuary warehoused cats in an old commercial building. The raid was prompted by a call from the neighbor after she peered in the window and witnessed a disturbing sight. Whereas several cats would usually come to the window to greet her, this time only two came, and the rest of the cats seemed to remain, oddly, in a circular group on the floor. The cats had been left to fend for themselves for an extended period, and authorities made the rescue after obtaining a civil order.
Wydell Dixon and her employee Kimberly Paskert were both charged on January 18, 2012 with four counts of animal abuse torture for their neglect of the Whiskerville cats. The four counts came from necropsies on four of the dead cats removed from the building. Those deceased animals, as well as several suffering living cats, were taken to Scott Vet.
Kimberly Paskert said she had allowed a volunteer to care for the cats for a week or two, and Dixon said she was out of town on family business. The state of the animals and the building told a different story about the length of time the cats went without care. Cats died of starvation and lay in filth while 2,000 pounds of donated Science Diet food sat untouched in an outbuilding on the property. The living cats sat among their dead friends.
Of the 17 cats initially taken to Scott Vet, 3 died. Veterinary personnel provided crucial information leading to the charges against the sanctuary’s operators. The readily observable physical evidence easily disputed the Sanctuary owner and caretaker’s claims about the length of time the cats were left uncared for, based on simple observation of the state the animals when found. They had feces caked to their fur and urine burns on their paws, and were so malnourished that their nails appeared to be extended because they had lost so much body mass. Those visible signs contradicted claims that the cats were only left alone and uncared for for a week or two. The revolting state of the sanctuary building supported Scott Vet’s observations.
The Whiskerville seizure brought about two stories, that of the criminal case against the operators, and the story of the cats. Most of the cats were sent to GCARS in Galveston, while the rest were distributed among several area shelters. Staff and volunteers worked for weeks, cleaning cats and trying to soothe and rehabilitate their damaged psyches. Some cats died, despite best efforts to heal them. The cats were forced to remain in limbo at the shelters while Ms. Dixon and her attorney fought to retain ownership over them, and then as the fight turned to who would be responsible for the costs of care. As the cats stretched the capacity of GCARS, other cats were unable to get shelter space, and adoptable cats began to die for space. When the cats were finally released, an adoption event placed some but many remained. As weeks dragged on, the remaining 40 or so cats were in danger of being killed, but the community of animal lovers and rescuers came through and their lived were saved. To date, most of the living Whiskerville cats have been adopted and the few remaining are safe with rescuers.
For much more on the Whiskerville cats and the case, see our eight previous posts on Whiskerville.
The Police News reported the facts of the case in brief the day the verdict was announced :
GALVESTON – A jury in the 56th State District Court of Judge Lonnie Cox, Saturday returned guilty verdicts in all four charges against Whiskerville Animal Sancuary owner Wydell Dixon. Dixon was charged with Felony Cruelty to Animals. Each charge carries punishment of from 180 days in county jail to two years in state prison with a possible fine of up to $10,000.
In the morning hours of January 3, 2012, animal control officers – responding to a tip from a concerned caller – found over 200 cats in deplorable conditions. After obtaining a civil seizure warrant signed by a Justice of the Peace, the officers seized approximately 185 live cats and 27 dead cats. The cats were turned over to Texas City Animal Control, although they were being housed and treated among several other agencies.
As a result of the conditions found at Whiskerville, Kimberly Paskert and Wydell Dixon were each charged with four counts of Felony Cruelty to Animal charges in the 56th District Court of Galveston County, Texas.
In May of last year a Galveston County jury awarded $231,884.65 in costs in connection with the Whiskerville animal seizure case to five different agencies who had taken in 185 live cats seized from Whiskerville. That jury found that Whiskerville owner Wydell Dixon had cruelly treated over 200 cats by unreasonable abandonment.
Details and a case timeline from the court are found at the Case Summary.
The cats seen in this article are all Whiskerville survivors, and all have been adopted. Photos via Whiskerville Survivors at Facebook.