By Julie Manganis
BEVERLY — A Beverly man was sentenced to 21âÑ2 years of probation and barred from owning any more cats in what a Salem District Court judge yesterday called a "horrific" case of animal cruelty.
But for the fact that James Dooling III is 76 and in poor health, he would be doing jail time, Judge Robert Cornetta said yesterday.
Dooling pleaded guilty yesterday to animal cruelty charges stemming from the discovery of nearly a dozen cats and kittens living in squalid conditions in the cellar of 32 Roundy St., Dooling's home, last February.
The cats were emaciated, lethargic and covered in filth, and many of them were suffering from upper respiratory infections and conjunctivitis, prosecutor Honor Segal told the judge during yesterday's hearing.
One kitten, a 4-week-old gray tabby, had such an advanced eye infection that his eyes had ruptured and resembled raisins, Segal said.
The kitten is now blind, according to Martha Parkhurst, an officer with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The home — which also served as a rooming house for several adults — smelled of cat urine, and the basement was filled with the stench of ammonia and overflowing litter boxes. It was also freezing cold in the cellar, where investigators found a boiler that was broken and leaking oil, the prosecutor said.
Segal told the judge that Dooling insisted they had "caught him on a bad day."
But Parkhurst had been dealing with Dooling and what he claims is a cat breeding operation for at least five years prior to the February report, Segal said. Over that time, Parkhurst had seized at least a dozen neglected cats and kittens from the home.
The state Department of Agricultural Resources, which regulates breeders, had put him on quarantine in 2007, Segal said, meaning Dooling should not have been continuing to breed cats.
Dooling had no idea how many cats he owned when Parkhurst showed up in February, the first of several visits this year to the now-condemned home. There were still cats in the house, some of them expecting litters, until springtime.
Parkhurst and Segal were forced to get a court order last spring to return to the home, where Parkhurst seized another five cats.
The judge said yesterday that he believes Dooling intentionally evaded Parkhurst by taking the cats out of the home on a day that she was scheduled to pick them up.
Segal pointed to that lack of cooperation, as well as Dooling's long history of similar neglect complaints in seeking a 21âÑ2-year jail term, with a year to be served and the balance on probation.
"This is not a one-time incident," Segal told the judge. "This has been going on for at least five years."
In fact, the judge noted, Dooling has a long history of creating public nuisances. Cornetta pointed to complaints by the city dating back as far as the 1960s over the rundown home.
Lloyd Walmsley, Dooling's attorney, argued for leniency yesterday, saying his client had suffered a "perfect storm" of personal crises, including a bout with the flu and the failure of the heating system, that led to his inability to care for the cats.
Walmsley said his client had an interest in maintaining the health of the cats, which, he said, Dooling sold to supplement his Social Security income.
"He dealt with it as best he could," said Walmsley, who asked the judge to continue the case without a finding and then dismiss the charge.
Cornetta rejected Walmsley's claim that it was a lapse.
"The photographs speak for themselves," the judge said. "The only term I could possibly use here is horrific. One cannot help but feel compassion and a sense of outrage."
And, the judge said, the situation has gone on for years.
He barred Dooling from owning cats or any other animals in the future.
The judge also asked Assistant City Solicitor Robert Munroe about the status of the home, which has been boarded up. City employees cleared some debris from the house, and Dooling is under orders from the city to make major repairs within a year or face having the home demolished by the city.
Munroe said there has been some slow progress at this point. Dooling is now living in a nursing home and is applying for public housing.
The judge praised the work of Parkhurst, the MSPCA and Munroe in the case.