Tiger Rescue in Colton, CA owned by John Weinhart
This was a classic example of how flawed our current system is that enables such outrageous abuse. The adult tigers were primarily the result of breeding cubs to use for pay to play sessions where customers would pay to pet or pose with the cubs.
Ten tigers were seized from the Tiger Rescue facility in Colton, and Weinhart was cited for various misdemeanors.
April 22, 2003:
Weinhart’s home in Glen Avon was raided and authorities seized thirteen young tigers from the property. Animal control seized two alligators found in the bathtub of the residence. Additionally, dozens of decaying and skeletal big cat remains were found all over the grounds, and 58 dead tiger cubs were found in the freezer. Tiger Rescue was closed to the public after the April 22 raid and remains closed.
May 22, 2003:
Chuck Traisi of the Fund for Animals took over the care of the animals at the Colton facility under the authority of the USDA and California Fish and Game.
July 9, 2003:
Weinhart’s preliminary court hearing.
July 10, 2003:
Weinhart’s preliminary court hearing (cont.) A Temporary Restraining Order hearing was also scheduled, where Weinhart’s lawyer was attempting to get a temporary restraining order on the CA Fish and Game people (including volunteers). This attempt was unsuccessful, as Weinhart’s lawyer was not prepared and had not filed any of the necessary paperwork. In the pre-trial hearing, a veterinary professor testified that at least four cubs found in a freezer at Weinhart’s Glen Avon property starved to death.
July 11, 2003:
The pre-trial hearing for Weinhart is over – all 63 counts are standing and will be prosecuted, with not a single charge being dropped.
July 21, 2003:
Today was the last day of Weinhart’s available time to comply with the requirement of removing the cats from the state of California, and was also the date of another hearing to determine whether or not a temporary restraining order would be granted to prohibit the state from moving the cats.
San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Tara Reilly denied the temporary restraining order, allowing the state to begin moving the cats to permanent sanctuary homes as soon as transport can be arranged.
July 29, 2003
Eleven leopards and both African lions were loaded for the trip to their new permanent sanctuary homes. Because of extremely poor health and old age, four veterinarians who were on the premises were in agreement that one of the leopards should be euthanized. She died peacefully with a volunteer by her side, comforting her.
Read more at the Mercury News
July 31, 2003
The cougar began the 22 hour trip to his new home at the Austin Zoo. The Austin Zoo is an excellent zoo with a top-notch facility and veterinary care.
November 7, 2003
Weinhart’s trial was scheduled to begin in Department 51 on Nov 24, and was a postponement of the original date scheduled for September 22. This trial has been postponed once again until Jan 12, 2004.
February 23, 2004
The jury trial has been posponed yet again, and has been rescheduled for February 23, 2004.
April 19, 2004
The jury trial has been posponed again, and has been rescheduled for April 19, 2004. The court is located at 4100 Main St. in Riverside.
April 26, 2004
Hearing on Motion Re: Media Req to Record/Broadcast (8:30a.m – Dept. 62) See court documentation.
August 9, 2004
The trial has been postponed 9 times now, and is currently rescheduled for September 2 , 2004.
The trial has been postponed again, and is currently rescheduled for Jan 5, 2005.
The case in Glen Avon is currently underway. Check here or Pet-Abuse.Com for updates.
Feb 22, 2005 – CONVICTED
A Riverside County jury convicted John Weinhart of child endangerment and animal cruelty charges today for keeping malnourished tigers and decomposing carcasses at his facility, and tranquilizers and live alligators within reach of his young son. He will be sentenced on March 22, 2005. Marla Smith will be sentenced March 10.
Mar 12, 2005
Marla Smith, 49, of Riverside had pleaded guilty in a Jan. 25 plea bargain to one felony count of willful cruelty to a child, 16 felony counts of animal cruelty and 46 misdemeanor violations involving the care of animals. The deal with prosecutors called for 120 days in jail.
But Superior Court Judge Ronald Taylor decided Thursday that the defendant deserved more jail time, after considering court testimony from Smith’s 10-year-old son and reviewing a probation report. The judge told Smith she could withdraw her plea and go to trial.
“She wishes to proceed with the 180 days,” Smith attorney Regina Filippone said.
The judge said the jail time could be served on weekends, and he also placed her on four years’ probation. “I don’t think it would be in (the child’s) best interest to have Smith imprisoned for a significant amount of time. Counseling is the remedy here to help her improve her parenting skills,” Taylor said.
June 20, 2005 – Sentencing
John Weinhart, who was recently convicted on 56 felonies of child and animal abuse, will be back in court on Monday, June 20, 2005, at 8:30am. Tippi Hedren, who testified against him in his trial, will be there. We are urging everyone to write letters to ensure that he serves time in prison for the heinous crimes he has committed against the tigers who were in his care. Write to:
Judge Ronald Taylor
Riverside Criminal Courts Department
Hall of Justice
4100 Main Street
Riverside, California 92501
July 19, 2005 – Sentenced
John Weinhart was sentenced to two years in county jail and five years of probation. He will receive credit for 204 days already served. Judge Ronald L. Taylor ordered that Weinhart not own, possess, care for or volunteer in a place with animals, and that he stay 50 yards away from exotic cats for the duration of his probation. He is also to receive psychological counseling and attend anger management and parenting classes.
Investigators who raided the property of a noted animal rescuer discovered more than 90 dead tigers, including 58 cubs stuffed into freezers, as well as other exotic animals suffering from malnutrition.
Officials who carried out the raid in Riverside County said they found tiger and leopard cubs crawling around the home’s attic, two small alligators in the bathtub and two hungry tigers roaming around the porch. Behind a gate in the front yard, authorities said they came across 30 dead adult tigers, some with their legs tied together.
“The worst of it was that everywhere you went on the property there were dead animals,” said Chuck Traisi, who took the live animals to his rescue facility in San Diego County. “Everyone was in a state of disbelief. There were cats that had long been dead and in various states of decay strewn everywhere.”
Riverside County sheriff’s deputies arrested John Weinhart, 60, who runs a well-known animal sanctuary called Tiger Rescue in nearby Colton. The facility serves as a home for tigers retired from the circus and entertainment industry and has long been a popular weekend destination for families who for a small fee can see the felines.
Weinhart is often portrayed in newspapers stories and his own promotional material as a dedicated protector of exotic animals.
But in November, the state Department of Fish and Game raided the Tiger Rescue headquarters. San Bernardino County prosecutors charged him with unlawful public display of tigers, breeding without a permit, failure to clean animal cages and supplying the animals with insufficient food and water. Weinhart pleaded not guilty to those charges and will face trial in late May.
The latest raid occurred a few miles away at Weinhart’s home near the community of Glen Avon. Also arrested during that raid was Weinhart’s wife, Marla Smith. Both were charged with one count of child endangerment because the couple’s 8-year-old boy lived among the animals, said Paul Dickerson, a Riverside County deputy district attorney.
Wendelin Rae Ringel, a veterinarian who worked for Weinhart, was arrested and charged with animal cruelty.
Steve Jefferies, a spokesman for Tiger Rescue, strongly denied that Weinhart or the other suspects did anything to harm the animals.
The live cubs were placed at Weinhart’s five-acre property because they had to be hand-fed every four hours, Jefferies said, adding that the alligators were personal pets.
He also said the couple’s child wasn’t in any danger. “I’ve known that kid since he was in diapers and he’s always seemed healthy to me,” Jefferies said.
Jefferies also disputed authorities’ allegations that they found 100 dead animals at Weinhart’s home. He said there were well under 30 corpses, and most of them had been dead for at least five years. He said he did not know why the dead animals were on the property or how they got there.
When asked about the 58 dead cubs found in freezers, Jefferies replied: “We keep them for research reasons.”
Tippi Hedren, the former movie actress who runs a wildlife sanctuary in Acton, Calif., said she visited Tiger Rescue a few years ago when it was in Glen Avon. She said she was “disgusted” by its filthy conditions. The animals lived in their own waste, she said, and did not have enough to drink because the only water was placed in upside-down trash lids. Hedren said she called the U.S. Department of Agriculture to complain but is not aware of any action taken.