NY animal hospice Oprah praised shuts amid lawsuit
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — An animal hospice once praised by Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities is shutting down as its owner faces a lawsuit from the state attorney general charging her with failing to file financial reports.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Wednesday that the Angel's Gate hospice, located 60 miles southwest of Albany in rural Delhi, has taken in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from the public without publicly accounting for any of it, and he's seeking its dissolution.
The latest tax return filed by Angel's Gate chief executive Susan Marino is for 2008 and was filed on April 31. It shows Angel's Gate received nearly $1.2 million in donations between 2003 and 2006.
Marino, who ran the hospice for hundreds of chronically ill and crippled dogs and cats, also faces cruelty charges stemming from a 2010 undercover investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. She said Wednesday she's finding new homes for 180 cats and "a handful" of dogs remaining at the hospice.
"We're going to dissolve Angel's Gate," Marino said by telephone. "These past two years have been hell."
She said she's had "nothing but hate mail and death threats" since PETA posted online a video showing animals with deformed limbs, oozing sores and other ailments it alleged were left untreated by her.
"We have an auditor who has been working with our bookkeeper to get our records up to date," Marino said. "We're late in filing, but there's been no misappropriation of funds. Every penny went for the animals' care."
Donations poured in after Marino and Angel's Gate were featured on Winfrey's Chicago-based syndicated television show in 2008. In 2009, Angel's Gate won $50,000 in a competition sponsored by Rachael Ray's pet rescue organization. Marino also had an appearance on Martha Stewart's show and was awarded an ASPCA Founders award and a Woman of Distinction honor from New York state.
But critics accuse her of being an animal hoarder and shameless self-promoter who puts on a good face for the media while animals suffer behind closed doors. PETA's undercover investigation found paralyzed dogs dragging themselves around until they had bloody skin ulcers, animals with urine scald from chronically wet diapers and animals with respiratory infections denied veterinary care.
Marino said the PETA video was edited in places to give a misleading impression, and she denied any animals were neglected.
But Kim Serino, who worked as a volunteer for Marino before Angel's Gate relocated from Long Island, just east of New York City, to Delhi in 2008, disputed Marino's assertion that the money she took in all went for animal care. She said there was inadequate veterinary care and conditions often were chaotic and filthy. On Wednesday she criticized Marino for hastily finding new homes for the animals.
"The urgency to remove the animals is Susan's choice; it's not a good choice," Serino said.
She said the animals should first be evaluated for temperament to ensure that they go to appropriate homes capable of meeting their needs.
Marino is due to appear in Delaware County Court to answer the attorney general's charges on Monday. The criminal case charging her with 22 counts of cruelty to animals has been adjourned until Oct. 30.