DELHI, New York––More than eight years of investigation and three years of litigation over the management of the former Angel’s Gate hospice in Delhi, New York, appeared to end with the dissolution of the charity on October 2, 2015 by Otsego County Court Judge John F. Lambert.
The verdict may end one of the highest-profile no-kill “rescue hoarding” cases in recent memory. Angel’s Gate was reportedly the end destination for hundreds of ill, injured, and in some cases apparently dangerous animals taken there by other no-kill rescues.
Several of the rescues and other individuals who took animals to Angel’s Gate mounted a militant and prolonged online defense of the hospice and founder Susan Marino.
Ordered to vacate
Reportedly ordering Marino to vacate the property immediately, Lambert further ordered that all animals remaining on the site be removed, preliminary to sale in satisfaction of debts.
About a dozen dogs and two dozen cats were believed to be there, down from a peak population of 288 animals as of February 2012, by Marino’s reckoning: “75 dogs, 200 cats, 10 parrots, and 3 lame horses.”
Defended by FoA
Marino’s tally was paraphrased by Friends of Animals president Priscilla Feral on a Change.org petition entitled “Stop persecuting Angel’s Gate.” Feral and her husband, FoA operations director Bob Orabona, had visited Angel’s Gate on February 20, 2012, and were among the hospice’s last prominent defenders.
New York state attorney general Eric Scheiderman on September 26, 2012 filed a lawsuit seeking dissolution of Angel’s Gate for allegedly failing to file accountability reports since 2008. The last IRS Form 990 available for Angel’s Gate showed receipts of $1.3 million from 2003 to 2006.
Marino, a former human health care nurse, began Angel’s Gate in 1993 in her seven-room home on 1.3 acres in Fort Solonga, on Long Island. Her concept of providing care-for-life for terminally ill animals whose people could no longer look after them won widespread support, including endorsements from television talk show host Oprah Winfrey, frequent guest appearances on Animal Radio, speaking appearances at several national humane conferences, and through a 2005 book, Getting Lucky, by Marino with co-writer Denise Flaim, then a longtime columnist for Long Island Newsday.
150 animals in seven rooms
By then Angel’s Gate housed 150 animals and was frequently the subject of complaints from neighbors about noise, odors, and violations of neighborhood parking rules by visitors and volunteers.
Eventually the local zoning code was rewritten to exclude Angel’s Gate. The Smithtown Town Court on July 10, 2007 fined Angel s Gate $800 for noise violations.
Relocating to rural Delhi soon afterward, Marino and Angel’s Gate found themselves distant from former volunteers and donors. Simultaneously Marino began taking in problematic pit bulls from “rescuers” who had obtained them from Animal Care & Control of New York City.
Marc Jurnove stepped in
The renowned late humane investigator Marc Jurnove, who had been an Angel’s Gate defender, on December 12, 2009 relayed to ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton a portfolio of 15 photographs taken by recent visitors to Angel’s Gate, who alleged that Marino was neglecting animals, and was having trouble with pit bulls fighting on the premises and injuring other animals. Jurnove and Clifton took the documentation to Mayor’s Alliance director Jane Hoffman and Humane Society of the U.S. regional representative Patrick Kwan. Both reported that Angel’s Gate appeared to be having difficulty, and said they would try to help Marino stabilize her situation. (See Marc R. Jurnove won right of citizens to bring Animal Welfare Act cases.)
Frustrated by lack of improvement, Jurnove took the original dossier and more to PETA in November 2010.
Pressured by PETA, Delaware County authorities were reportedly set to raid Angel’s Gate in April 2011, backed by the New York City-based American SPCA and the New York State Humane Association, but according to sources who were prepared to impound the animals, the Delaware County district attorney called off the raid at the last minute. Part of the issue was a conflict of jurisdiction between Delaware County and Broome County.
The ASPCA retreated from further involvement.
PETA began publicizing demands for criminal charges against Marino after the execution of a Broome County search warrant on May 7, 2011.
Volunteer took five cats to local vet
While nothing appeared to be happening during the next year in Broome County, in December 2011 an Angel’s Gate volunteer took five cats from the hospice to a local veterinarian, who filed an affidavit that persuaded the Delaware County district attorney to finally file seven charges including five counts of cruelty to animals, a violation of state Agriculture and Markets law, and one count of seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, specifically potassium chloride, a paralytic drug commonly used in eastern Europe in lieu of pentobarbital to kill impounded animals. Marino made a preliminary court appearance in January 2012.
Broome County then in May 2012 charged Marino with 17 additional cruelty counts.
Announced closure in 2012
Marino announced in late October 2012 that she had closed Angel’s Gate, as a judicially recommended condition of possibly having the cruelty cases dismissed.
In January 2013, according to WBNG-Binghampton reporter Jillian Marshall, “Marino was ordered to remove all of the animals in her care and to list who they were with and where and when they were transferred,” was “prohibited from caring for any animals in the future, from holding any managerial role in any charitable organization for 10 years, and from having any direct contact with charitable funds.”
Almost two years elapsed before Marino on December 29, 2014 submitted a dissolution plan to the court. After a two-day hearing on the plan in July 2015, Judge Lambert rejected Marino’s plan and imposed the orders of October 2, 2015.