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Officials consider animal cruelty charges

SPCA sergeant, Regina Benfante, holds a chinchilla, inside

SPCA sergeant, Regina Benfante, holds a chinchilla, inside the MASH unit at SPCA headquarters in Hauppauge. The chinchilla was one of around 100 animals discovered in a Shirley home Tuesday. (Feb. 21, 2011) Credit: James Carbone

Concetta Gigliani was a longtime animal rescuer and cat lover whose neighbors helped her clean out her Shirley home two years ago when she ended up with too many cats, said neighbors and Brookhaven Town officials.

Then Alan Warner, a member of a family that had long been friends with Gigliani, moved into the house and began taking in more animals as favors to a variety of people, town officials said - even as Gigliani, 87, was sinking into dementia.

When town and Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals investigators inspected the house Tuesday, they found roughly 100 or more animals - including a baby bull and several goats - some in poor condition, some dead. Complicating the matter: Warner's mother, Bridget Warner, is Gigliani's caretaker, town officials said.

SPCA is investigating Alan Warner to see if criminal animal cruelty charges are necessary, while the town is investigating housing violations at the Malba Drive home, which has been condemned.

"It seems the son moved in and created a whole new problem with these barnyard animals," said town Councilman Dan Panico. It is unclear when Warner moved into the home. Panico said the town's preliminary investigation shows Warner moved in within the last two years.

Matt Warner, Alan's brother, said his brother's only crime is that he "cares too much" about animals.

"He's been doing people favors," Matt Warner said. "He lost control of it."

Brookhaven officials have described the home as "squalid."

Officials said Wednesday they have started cleaning the property, which could take until mid-March. They will recoup the costs from Alan Warner, Panico said. Warner was served on site with eight tickets for housing violations.

Warner, 23, lived in the home with fiancee Tiffani Borgia, Gigliani and possibly Borgia's young son, authorities said. Gigliani, the homeowner, has been hospitalized for evaluation, Panico said.

Attempts to reach Warner were not successful.

SPCA officials described the treatment of the animals as "animal abuse," but said they will not file charges until the investigation is complete.

"Absolutely, it's criminal," the SPCA's Regina Benfante said. "No animal should have to live in conditions we saw last night."

Officials said they removed 76 live animals - including a bull calf, seven goats, 12 cats, 23 rabbits and three chinchillas.

All have been checked by veterinarians and some - including the bull calf, which was taken to an East End farm - were awaiting a second exam Wednesday afternoon because they had developed signs of respiratory distress, said Steve Laton, chief of operations for the Suffolk SPCA. The calf had been living in a back room of the house, he said.

SPCA officials said the animals would be rehabilitated and offered for adoption.

Animal crowding at the home seemed to intensify in recent months, neighbors said.

"Sad, it's sad," Melanie Domke said. "I feel bad for the animals."

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