Tiger Ranch operator pleads guilty to cruelty

A western Pennsylvania woman has pleaded guilty to multiple counts of animal cruelty more than a year after agents raided her property and found hundreds of cats - most of them suffering from highly contagious diseases - on her 29-acre property.

Linda Bruno, 47, of Tarentum, pleaded guilty to 12 misdemeanor animal cruelty charges and two other counts of tampering with evidence. Prosecutors withdrew more than 500 other charges based on the roughly 750 cats found on her property. Bruno, who operated Tiger Ranch sanctuary, will be sentenced Oct. 5 and could face jail time. A spokesman said the Allegheny County District Attorney's office will argue for incarceration at that time. 

Under terms of the plea agreement Bruno, who was also known as Lin Marie, will not be able to own, control or possess any animals.

She also will have to pay $200,000 in restitution to the Pennsylvania SPCA in Philadelphia, which has been caring for the 240 surviving cats since the raid in March 2008. The cats were treated for a variety of life-threatening illnesses including respiratory infections, abscesses, dehydration and malnutrition. 

Agents who raided the property found deplorable conditions in a house and five outbuildings, which were crammed with scores of cats huddled around a portable heater with no clean water and a single food bowl. Investigators also found open burial pits on the property and a "death room" where dying cats were left to languish.

Tiger Ranch billed itself as a sanctuary for unwanted and stray cats and took in thousands of cats and kittens each year from as far away as New York, Indiana and Georgia. The Allegheny County District Attorney's office said the cats will be available for adoption once forfeiture papers are signed on Wednesday. PSPCA officials say they are hoping to reunite some of the cats with their owners who may have had to give them up because of circumstances at the time, but who would now be able to care for them.