TEXAS CITY — Testimony in the animal cruelty trial of a feline sanctuary owner revealed the cats’ desperate attempts at survival after having been abandoned for at least 40 days.

Authorities on Jan. 3, 2012, seized about 200 cats, including 27 that died, from Whiskerville Animal Sanctuary in Texas City, which was owned by Wydell Lorraine Dixon, 57.

Authorities charged Dixon and her employee, Kimberly Jane Paskert, 49, each with four felony counts of animal cruelty.

Kim Schoolcraft, the former head of Galveston County animal services, testified Tuesday in Judge Lonnie Cox’s 56th District Court about the cats’ conditions.

Feces and urine covered the floors, walls and windows. The stench was so powerful, authorities had to don breathing apparatuses to withstand the odor. There was no water anywhere to be found, so Texas City firefighters brought in bottled water for the cats, Schoolcraft said.

The cats began fighting each other to reach the bowls, Schoolcraft said.

“They were obviously desperate to get to the water,” Schoolcraft said.

In his opening statement, defense attorney R. Scott Shearer blamed Paskert, Dixon’s sole employee of six years, saying she stopped coming to work but didn’t tell Dixon.

“She’s communicating with Dixon, emailing everything’s fine with the cats,” Shearer said. “She had the gall to even go pick up her check when she wasn’t working.”

Paskert’s case has yet to go to trial, court documents reveal.

Dixon worked at Amoco for 24 years, saved her money and in retirement bought the building for the feline sanctuary, which at the time of the seizure had plenty of food, water and air conditioning, Shearer said.

“The issue in the case is not the animals died or were injured,” Shearer told the jury. “We don’t dispute that.

“The state will parade before you dozens of pictures of dead and diseased animals, cat poop, and they’re going to want you to use emotion and ignore the elements of the offense because they can’t prove my client intentionally, knowingly, recklessly did anything to injure those animals.”

In a civil case against Dixon, the county seized the cats and a jury awarded $231,884 to public and private animal benevolence organizations for housing the cats.

In her opening statement, prosecutor Elizabeth Cuchens accused Dixon of being reckless in the way she ran her shelter.

“Every cat taken from the facility had some sort of injury,” Cuchens said.

Testimony was expected to continue today.

Contact reporter Chris Paschenko at 409-683-5241 or chris.paschenko@galvnews.com.

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