3 charged in massive cat hoarding case to make first court appearance Wednesday

Three people from Winsted arrested in a massive cat hoarding case will go before a judge for the first time on Wednesday. John Thomen Sr., 61, Laura Thomen, 53, and their daughter Marissa O’Brien, 31, are each charged with 106 counts of animal cruelty and two counts of risk of injury to a minor. They will be arraigned in Torrington Superior Court. Police said an arrest warrant is pending for a fourth adult.
It ends a four-month investigation that began when police found about 200 cats inside the family’s home on Moore Avenue after receiving an anonymous call about a sick cat in June. Police said eight people were living there, along with two kids whom DCF removed from the home and placed with other relatives.
The group Desmond’s Army Animal Advocates pressed for charges since the beginning. “The reason why we were pushing for arrests in this case is because without court intervention or mental health help, hoarding is 100% repetitive behavior,” explained Zilla Cannamela, president of Desmond’s Army.
Neighbors told News 12 they knew the family had two dogs and some cats, but the sheer number was shocking.
“For me, myself we had the occasional cat cut across here and there. We never had an odor or issues like that,” said Victor Dubourg, who lives two houses over and much farther back from the road.
Annette Newman lives next door and said she complained about the smell half a dozen times to the Board of Health. Newman says she believed it was a sewer or septic tank issue, not hundreds of cats.
“Oh my God! I couldn’t even have imagined such a thing,” Newman said. “When they were pulling the cats out of there, I was just floored. The amount of cruelty, you know? And if I would’ve realized that right from the start, I would’ve called animal control.”
Newman said she didn’t see the family much. “The guy was really pretty reclusive. He never really came out,” she told News 12.
Duborg said John Thomen, Sr. always walked his grandchildren to and from the bus. “We exchanged pleasantries,” Duborg recalled, adding he never saw other adults.
Winchester Town Manager Josh Kelly said the home, which the family had been renting, was condemned for several reasons, including the amount of cat urine. The ammonia in the air was dangerously high, over twice the legal limit, according to Kelly. He also said the septic system was so full that a part of it exploded into the front yard just a few weeks before police responded.
It took several days for an army of volunteers, town employees and animal control officers from across the state to remove all the cats from the home. Many of the cats were sick, about a dozen needed emergency care and one ended up dying. The town turned a local school into a temporary shelter, and thanks to an outpouring of support, every cat was placed with a rescue or was adopted within a month.
Kelly took in two of the sickest kittens.
“They had fleas. They had worms. They were not even 12 weeks at the time, probably 10 weeks, very weak, possibly undernourished and so forth,” Kelly explained. “They're great. They're thriving at this point.”
Police said the family told them they originally began bringing cats into the home to get them out of the cold and feed them.
“I don’t think they were intentionally being cruel. But again, hoarding is an illness,” said Cannamela. “It got out of control.”
She said cats can have three litters a year so one thing to help avoid these situations is to always get your pets spayed and neutered.