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NY woman faces animal cruelty charge after 24 cats found in home

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A Long Island woman was arrested on animal cruelty charges Wednesday after detectives removed 24 cats – some with open wounds – from her Westbury home, Nassau County prosecutors said.

Valerie Varnuska, 59, had no comment as she left court Wednesday afternoon following her arraignment on a misdemeanor animal cruelty charge. Prosecutors said district attorney’s investigators were pursuing a tip Wednesday morning when they raided Varnuska’s home on Middlecamp Road in Westbury. Technicians – wearing protective masks – removed 24 cats from the home, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office said. They are now being treated at North Shore Animal League in Port Washington.

In court papers, prosecutors said the cats were being held “in extremely poor living conditions.” At Varnuska’s arraignment, Assistant District Attorney Adrian Murphy said the home was covered in trash and urine and court papers say the home had a “severe stench of ammonia and fecal matter.” When district attorney’s investigators arrived, they said the trash was piled up so high it prevented them from walking around the home. All the doors and windows in the house were also closed, they said. Following the raid, the Village of Westbury deemed the home “not fit for human habitation.”

Prosecutors said Varnuska has no prior criminal history. Her defense lawyer, Jennifer Mazzei, asked Nassau District Court Judge Andrea Pheonix to release Varnuska without bail, but the judge said she thought Varnuska “needs some kind of supervision” because of the number of cats that were recovered from the home. Varnuska was conditionally released to the supervision of the county probation department.

Mazzei, who declined to comment, said her client has lived in New York for her entire life and had been caring for her mother who recently passed away. Varnuska’s sister and another woman were also in court Wednesday, but would not speak with reporters. Varnuska is due back in Nassau District Court on July 15.

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