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Valerie Varnuska charged with animal cruelty after cats seized from Westbury home, DA says

One of the 24 cats removed from a

One of the 24 cats removed from a Westbury home is shown after a search warrant was executed, said a spokesman for the Nassau County district attorney on May 14, 2014. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Twenty-four cats "in various states of health" were removed from a Westbury home Wednesday morning after a search warrant was executed, said a spokesman for the Nassau County district attorney.

Valerie Varnuska, 59, lives at the house at 54 Middlecamp Road. She was arrested and charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty at her arraignment Wednesday in Hempstead District Court, the spokesman said. She was conditionally released to probation, prosecutors said, and is due back in court July 15.

"The home was declared unfit for habitation and condemned," the spokesman said.

No dead cats were found, he said, and humane traps where set in the home to capture any cats that might have escaped detection.

A team from the North Shore Animal League of Port Washington removed the cats, which were being assessed medically Wednesday afternoon, said Lindsey Calabrese, spokeswoman. Based on preliminary on-site assessments, some were malnourished, others appeared to have been eating and "a lot" had bad teeth, she added. In coming days the cats will be assessed behaviorally, she said. Prosecutors tried for months to find a "noncriminal resolution to the case in order to protect the animals," said a news release from Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice's office said. When that was "determined not to be possible," investigators executed the search warrant and arrested Varnuska.

While the North Shore Animal League is evaluating the cats, the Town of North Hempstead Animal Control, the Village of Westbury, the Animal Lovers League of Glen Cove and Posh Pets Rescue also partnered with Rice's office, the release said.

"This investigation has rescued two dozen defenseless animals from filthy, dangerous conditions unsuitable for any person or pet," Rice said. "I'm grateful to our partners in this joint operation, without whom we could not enforce the law and protect these animals."

The home had no electricity and "significantly unsanitary and cluttered living conditions," the release said, "including furniture and garbage bags strewn throughout, feces and urine on floors and walls, and a powerful stench that required responding officials to wear industrial breathing masks."

Varnuska is represented by Jennifer Mazzei, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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