VALE — Cynthia Allen, the owner of a van filled with 68 cats found in early November, appeared in Malheur Circuit Court Thursday for sentencing. Allen, 52, pleaded guilty to five counts of animal neglect in the first degree Jan. 28.

Judge Lung Hung, following the recommendations of the Malheur County District Attorney’s Office, sentenced Allen to 60 months probation, during which time she cannot care for or possess any animals. She also will have to pay for and complete a mental health evaluation and will have to pay $11,500 in restitution and $400 in fines.

The restitution will go to the Ontario Feral Cat Project. The nonprofit organization has cared for the cats since Nov. 9, when Allen turned them over, following a Malheur County Sheriff’s Office investigation of a complaint about a bus full of cats on Freedom Drive in Ontario.

A statement provided before sentencing said the Ontario Feral Cat Project had 18 volunteers and three local veterinarians providing service to the cats for three months, according to Malheur County District Attorney Dan Norris.

“The cats were in very bad shape when they came in,” Norris said.

Caring for the animals has been costly.

“We have spent far, far in excess of the $12,000 she was ordered to pay,” said Elizabeth Lyon, a volunteer with the Feral Cat Project. “We did get lots of donations … but it also has dipped into money that had been donated for our regular trap, neuter, return work for feral cats. It’s been a stress for us that way.”

But it’s not just dollars the organization is spending on caring for the cats — it’s time, too.

Lyon wasn’t sure how many hours to date had been spent between volunteers and veterinarians caring for the cats, but said when she did some calculations at the end of December, there were almost 400 hours at that point.

“We spend a lot of time caring for them and socializing with them — playing, petting and brushing,” she said, adding that the cats make better pets when they’re used to being handled and touched.

Of the 68 cats that came into the facility, 27 were taken by Simply Cats, a no-kill shelter in Boise that has adopted out 13 of the felines. The Feral Cat Project also has adopted out 13, and is now down to 28 cats.

Lyon also was at Thursday’s court proceeding and heard Allen’s statement to the judge.

“I believe she doesn’t want to hoard cats anymore. It was overwhelming to her,” Lyon said. “She’s grateful they are getting homes and grateful not to have that burden. Seventy cats is a lot of cats to take care of.”

Lyon, who had been in touch with the District Attorney’s office throughout the process, knew about the proposed sentencing.

“We told the court we hoped she would be assigned some counseling for hoarding, and I believe they did suggest that, so we were pleased about that,” she said.

If the therapist is OK with Allen having a pet in the future, Lyon said she didn’t believe the organization would object.

“But we would not want her to hoard again,” Lyon added.

According to court documents, Allen had only five days to contact a doctor to begin the evaluation process. If the doctor recommends treatment, she must follow it, including taking any medications that might be prescribed.

In addition to the usual general conditions of probation, Allen’s nearly five-year-long probation comes with other special conditions, including a mandatory curfew and a polygraph test.

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