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Friedheim woman pleads to animal abuse four years after charges
A 43-year-old Friedheim woman was issued a court summons Oct. 27, 2008, after a sheriff's deputy came upon her nine dogs, diseased, emaciated and abandoned in a rural area of Cape Girardeau County.
The summons was ignored for four years until Catherine Ann Lee finally made it to court Monday, in jailhouse garb and shackles, to plead guilty to a charge of animal abuse.
Judge Gary Kamp sentenced her to nine days in jail for the misdemeanor offense.
Authorities, meanwhile, struggled to explain how Lee avoided the courts from the date an arrest warrant was signed Oct. 27, 2008, until she was picked up by Perryville police Dec. 5. Police there declined to say what she was arrested for, referring a reporter to the chief who was not in the office Monday.
Within days of her warrant in 2008, deputies in Cape Girardeau County attempted to arrest Lee for failing to appear in court, said Lt. Chris Hull, who heads the sheriff's department's patrol division. They went to her home on more than one occasion, Hull said after reviewing records.
What the records didn't answer was why Lee was never brought into custody.
"There's got to be an explanation for that," Hull said. "Obviously, there's something a little weird about it. But people can lay low. She must have moved out of town or something."
Court documents still list a Friedheim address for Lee, the same one she had when the dogs, including puppies, were rescued. The case made headlines at the time when Lee was accused of leaving no food or water for the dogs -- one chow mix, one Australian shepherd, one boxer and six pit bulls. Six were tied to trees and three were running loose when the deputy, who was searching for stolen property, found them and made a report.
Within just a few weeks, all but three had been adopted by new families, according to Requi Salter of the Southeast Missouri Humane Society. All six eventually made their way to good homes, she said.
Salter went along when the dogs were rescued, and she remembers how bad off they were. The animals, especially the pit bulls, were thin, and rib bones protruded through their flea-covered skin, she said. Some wore sharp-edged chains around their necks. They were so malnourished that one prosecutor at the time described them as "skeletons with fur."
"They were just terribly dehydrated," Salter said. "One of them had to be carried out of the woods and almost all of them tested positive for some sort of parasite."
Lee told officers at the time she couldn't afford to feed the dogs because of her financial situation. She released them to the Humane Society's custody. The dogs were discovered at a residence on County Road 404.
"Unfortunately, I have seen worse," Salter said. "But they were in bad shape. Had that officer not stumbled upon them, they would have met their demise right there in the woods."
Salter didn't want to comment on Lee's punishment, but she said animal abuse cases need to be dealt with seriously.
"I do think they ought to face the consequences of what they've done," Salter said. "Moreover, I really wish people who do things like that would be forced to see what happens to those animals."
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