Case dropped vs. Finley woman who left cats behind

KENNEWICK — The case against a 66-year-old woman accused of abandoning 57 cats when she moved out of her Finley home has been dropped.

Prosecutors filed the documents in the case of Niki Lyn Delahunt based on evidence that "economic circumstances beyond the defendant's control led to (her) failure."

Court documents show Delahunt had a number of witnesses prepared to testify that she had provided food for animals that had been abandoned near her home but didn't have enough money to meet the growing demand of caring for all of them.

Delahunt was charged last fall in Benton County Superior Court with two counts each of first- and second-degree animal cruelty.

She was renting a home at 200604 E. 10th Ave. but was evicted in late June 2010. Six of the cats found inside her former home had to be euthanized, while 12 more were found dead.

Prosecutors at the time said that Delahunt, now of Kennewick, left "numerous cats in and around the home" without any food or anyone to care for them.

The property owner found the cats July 3 and contacted Pet Over Population Prevention and Prevent Homeless Pets for help, along with the Benton County Sheriff's Office to file a report. The home was infested with maggots, flies and "creepy crawlers," investigators reported.

On July 9, a sheriff's deputy visited the property for a follow-up and, after getting out of his patrol car, "could smell a strong odor of animal urine and feces, although the home had been disinfected by volunteers," Deputy Prosecutor Megan Bredeweg wrote in court documents. "The interior of the home had extensive damage and lacked resources for the animals."

The surviving cats were being treated for various injuries, including herpes infections in their eyes, upper respiratory issues and a virus that produces sores on their tongues.

Delahunt was scheduled for trial June 20.

Then last week, Bredeweg moved to dismiss the case. She said the case was originally charged based on information received in police reports, particularly that she had left a large number of cats at the house, they were suffering from diseases and lacked food and water. The reports also said a number of the cats were tame, rather than feral.

But Bredeweg added that as the case proceeded, details came out that "cats are routinely abandoned in the area of this home." This was confirmed by the property owner and a neighbor.

Delahunt and a witness were expected to testify that she only owned three cats which had been fixed before she moved into the rental.

Delahunt had documentation showing that she had obtained and paid for medical services for some of the feral cats, Bredeweg said in the dismissal documents.

She also had sought help from local agencies like POPP and was able to get some of the cats spayed or neutered, but could not pay for all of them to be fixed and was unable to get more help from other animal organizations based on the location of the property, the documents showed.

"Based on all the evidence which would be presented in this case, the majority of which was obtained after charges were initially filed, I do not believe that it will be possible to prove any of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt given (Delahunt's) attempts to provide medical care and food for abandoned animals," Bredeweg wrote. "... There is no longer sufficient evidence by which to prove this case."

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com