CRIME

Former rescue volunteer in Florida accused of hoarding over 50 cats sentenced to 3 years in prison

Dec 28, 2023, 2:38 PM

Years after dozens of cats were found in filth, former South Florida animal rescue volunteer, Miche...

Years after dozens of cats were found in filth, former South Florida animal rescue volunteer, Michelline Toulouse, who was charged with animal cruelty was sentenced to 3 years in prison, 10 years of probation. (BROWARD COUNTY/WSVN)

(BROWARD COUNTY/WSVN)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (WSVN) — Years after dozens of cats were found in filth, a former South Florida animal rescue volunteer who was charged with animal cruelty has learned her fate.

Michelline Toulouse was charged with 13 counts of animal cruelty after more than 50 cats were found inside her townhome in Sunrise, with urine and feces everywhere, in May of 2021.

Wednesday night, Broward County Circuit Judge Ari Abraham Porth sentenced her to three years in prison.

The judge did not mince words when addressing the defendant.

“These poor animals suffered painful and torturous deaths,” he said. “You let them live and die in the most untenable horrific squalor.”

Toulouse, who was once facing up to 60 years behind bars, was also sentenced to five years of mental health probation and five years of drug probation.

Prior to the sentencing, prosecutors in court spent most of the day showing images of the deplorable conditions for the dozens of cats that were living with Toulouse.

Investigators said some of the felines were dead, and others were emaciated and starving. Some dead and alive inside the residence.

On the stand, a witness broke down in tears as a prosecutor described a picture of a dead kitten.

“And the skull of a kitten, correct?” said the prosecutor.

“Yes,” said the witness.

“And it had been stripped of flesh, fur,” said the prosecutor.

“Yes,” said the witness.

“Any soft material,” said the prosecutor. “Was it emaciated?”

“Yes,” said the witness.

Animal advocates said this is the worst case of animal abuse they’ve seen in Broward County. Some of them were in attendance on Wednesday, and they were seen covering their eyes and crying when the images were being shown in court.

At one point, Toulouse was seen hiding under a desk.

Kathy Bieniek, vice president of Saving Sage Animal Rescue and a former colleague of the defendant, also took the stand.

“I don’t even have a word for it. It’s total neglect and abuse,” she said.

“Do you feel like she manipulated you?” said the prosecutor.

“Yes,” said Bieniek.

Toulouse reached a deal with prosecutors back in September. She pleaded no contest and agreed to a mental health diversion program.

“What I saw in the smell is something burned into my memories forever. She was my friend, who I treated like a daughter. I loved and supported her and would have done anything to help,” said Bieniek as she read a statement on the stand. “To witness her manipulate and gaslight me and accuse me of planting these cats really changed my outlook on everything. Actually, I have [post-traumatic stress disorder], and I will never recover from the emotional toll this took on my life, and I truly hope that one day Michelline actually feels sorry for what she did.”

“She accepted responsibility by entering a plea in this case, but yet you don’t think that that’s taking responsibility for her actions,” said a defense attorney.

The judge in this case listened to testimony from both sides. At around 6:30 p.m., when Toulouse took the stand, she asked for leniency.

“I tried my best to be there for everybody except for myself,” she said.

People who spoke with 7News after court adjourned approved of the judge’s decision.

“Justice was served, and she deserved every single year, every day,” said private investigator Ana Campos.

“I am so happy that these cats finally have their justice, because they deserve so much more than what she gave them,” said Bieniek.

In addition to her prison sentence and probation, Toulouse will be required to serve 500 hours of community service and will no longer be allowed to own cats.


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Former rescue volunteer in Florida accused of hoarding over 50 cats sentenced to 3 years in prison