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Wednesday, May 4, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 a.m.

House arrest ordered in animal-neglect case

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

A case that inspired a new animal-neglect law ended yesterday when a 57-year-old Bellevue woman was sentenced to 30 days of house arrest for starving several cats to death last summer in her flea-infested condominium.

Joyce Hunstad must also serve 100 hours of community service and pay abut $2,000 in fines and court costs, said Bellevue District Court Judge Fred Yeatts.

On July 30, police found the corpses of seven cats and a dog, feces and garbage in the woman's condo, which was rarely lived in, according to police and neighbors. An exterminator found an eighth dead cat a couple of days later.

City prosecutors charged Hunstad with seven counts of animal neglect, a misdemeanor. Three counts were thrown out by a judge, and Hunstad pleaded guilty to the four remaining counts.

"I'm sorry that this happened, and I'll try to do everything I can [that the court requires]," Hunstad told Yeatts yesterday.

Hunstad's case became a cause célèbre for Pasado's Safe Haven, an animal-rights group based in Sultan, Snohomish County. In response to the cats' death, Pasado's co-founder Susan Michaels successfully lobbied the Legislature this year to make animal neglect a felony, punishable by as much as a year in jail.

Gov. Christine Gregoire is expected to sign the bill this month, and the law should take effect this summer.

Mark Steinway, Pasado's co-founder and Michaels' husband, attended Hunstad's sentencing yesterday and said her punishment was "a nice conclusion to this case."

People who starve or suffocate animals will also now face stiffer consequences, he said. And Hunstad's case was the inspiration.

"It was a sad, sad case, but it accomplished something good," Steinway said.

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Hunstad's mental health is in question, said her attorney, Joseph Marshall. A city probation officer recommended that she undergo a formal evaluation as part of her sentence, and Yeatts agreed.

Hunstad told the judge that she had already served two weeks in jail on the neglect charges, but Andrew Nguyen, a Bellevue deputy prosecutor, said that was not true.

Under house arrest, Hunstad will be required to wear an electronic monitor and leave her home only for work, church or medical care.

Yeatts also barred Hunstad from owning any animals for two years. Hunstad told reporters after the sentencing that she would like to have pets sometime in the future.

She declined to explain how the pets died but said the public didn't know the whole story. "I love animals," she said.

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or abach@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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