Liberty woman is convicted of keeping too many cats

A Clay County jury on Monday convicted a Liberty woman of violating a municipal ordinance by harboring too many cats outside her home.

Annette Betancourt was cited for creating a public nuisance in October 2011 after neighbors complained about a colony of feral cats under her care.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. Jurors will decide whether to sentence Betancourt to 90 days in the county jail, levy a fine up to $500 or recommend both penalties.

“It was a tough case,” said defense attorney Edwin M. Soltz. “The ordinance was not clear, but it could have gone either way.”

Soltz said his client was disappointed with the verdict.

During the daylong trial on Monday, the courtroom was filled with about 30 supporters of Betancourt. Several said they perform the same trap, neuter and release method that Betancourt does. Betancourt and her allies said the effort is widely accepted and is designed to stem the population of feral cats.

Betancourt said she lives near a wooded area where many feral cats live. Over the years, Betancourt said, she has trapped about 20 feral cats and spent her own money to feed them and have them neutered. The cats were later released, she said.

“I took it upon myself to perform this community service,” Betancourt testified.

However, Liberty prohibits residents from owning more than four cats or dogs at a time. Neighbors complained to the city about the large number of cats outside Betancourt’s home.

Betancourt said that she owns four cats but that they are kept inside and are separate from the feral cats.

City prosecutor Thomas C. McGiffin said Betancourt created a public nuisance when she harbored up to a dozen cats at once. Local authorities made numerous attempts to resolve the issue but Betancourt refused to cooperate, McGiffin said.