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Former Hibbing lawmaker charged in animal hoarding


Two Hibbing residents were recently charged with a combined 67 counts of misdemeanor mistreatment of animals and misdemeanor neglect of animals in the third case of animal hoarding the city has seen in the past year.

Former Minnesota Rep. John Spanish, now 90, was charged with 33 counts of animal neglect and one public nuisance count for keeping dozens of cats inside his home and for disposing of raw sewage in the city's storm drains. The home Spanish was living in had no running water, according to the police report. All but seven of the cats had to be euthanized.

Hibbing resident Delores Passino, 77, was charged with 34 counts of animal mistreatment. Hibbing authorities recovered 34 live cats and a number of dead cats from her home. All the recovered cats had to be euthanized.

Charges were filed against Spanish and Passino last week in St. Louis County Court, and both are scheduled to appear in court on March 21. Their homes have since been declared unfit for human habitation.

The incidents come on the heels of another animal hoarding case, said Hibbing Animal Control Officer Alyssa Garcia. In November, James and Carol Shuper were charged with a combined 55 counts of animal mistreatment and neglect for keeping more than 30 dogs, most of them small Chihuahua-type breeds and most in emaciated condition, in their Hibbing home. Those dogs were removed in early June.

Hibbing Police Department Investigator Dale Wright said publicity surrounding that case led to tips about a large number of cats at Passino's residence. Garcia already had been monitoring the house after noticing a large number of stray cats on the property, she said.

"One day, I picked up a number of stray kittens, and a neighbor came out and said there was a dead cat lying on the grass," Garcia said. The deceased cat was "just fur and bones," Garcia said. She began watching the house even more intently, noting the "putrid" odor that surrounded it. Garcia said the blinds were usually tightly drawn around the windows, but one day they had been left slightly open. She looked in, "and it was the worst thing I could have seen in my life," she said.

"There was slime, and dirt, and flies all over," Garcia said. Feces were piled several feet high on the floor, and all the furniture was shredded.

Garcia reported her findings to Hibbing police, who later executed a search warrant at Passino's residence. Inside, they found cat food scattered on top of the piles of feces, and the stench of ammonia was enough to make their eyes burn, Garcia said. Over the next few weeks, Garcia live-trapped 34 cats, returning to the home five or six times a day to check the traps. The cats were so feral and ill they had to be euthanized, Garcia said.

Spanish served in the state House of Representatives from 1969-71 and again in 1973-79, according to News Tribune and state Legislature records. In 2004, he ran against then-state Rep. Tony Sertich for the 5B House seat, and last month he ran in the special DFL primary for the same seat.

Spanish also had a reputation for keeping piles of old items in his yard and inside his home, Garcia said. After attempting numerous times to speak to Spanish about the number of cats he had, Garcia gathered enough information for police to obtain a search warrant to enter his home. According to the police report, the home was filled with piles of bags and boxes, with just a narrow pathway to get around the house. Over the course of several months, Garcia live-trapped and removed more than 30 cats from the residence.

"You kind of lose who you are," Garcia said of her experience with people who hoard animals. James Shuper, for instance, told Garcia that he "could never leave his house, that he was constantly buying dog food," she said. And from the street -- aside from the smell -- one would never guess that the ordinary-looking homes could be so full of malnourished dogs or cats, Garcia said. She also expects to come across more cases in the future.

"I'm sure there's more out there," Garcia said. "I'm sure we will get more."