It all began with reports of a “loose pig."
In 2018, police were tipped off on three separate occasions that a farm pig was freely roaming the streets in Farmington, Minnesota. Police were informed the pig had escaped a property rented by then-25-year-old Caycee Bregel, who operated a nearby animal rescue shelter. The tipsters had also complained that Bregel’s house was overrun with cats and dogs.
Following repeated complaints, Bregel’s landlord, with the assistance of the local sheriff’s office, entered the woman’s home in Dakota County, about 30 miles south of Minneapolis. What they discovered was a real-life pet cemetery and cat-hoarding of “horrific” proportions.
A total of 64 dead cats, in various stages of decomposition, were found buried in shallow graves in the backyard, stuffed in freezers and refrigerators, and stored in Bregel’s garage, according to a criminal complaint obtained by Oxygen.com. Police also found a colony of cats—many of them diseased, infested, emaciated—living in absolute squalor with “feces everywhere.” Her cats were “skin and bone,” according to the criminal complaint.
Police rescued 43 cats from the residence. Authorities also recovered five living dogs and a guinea pig from Bregel’s property. They later searched the site of her animal clinic and recovered additional cats and dogs. A handful had to be euthanized because their conditions were so severe.
Bregel, now 26, pleaded guilty last week to 13 counts of animal cruelty, according to the according to a Office of Dakota County Attorney press release.
The conditions Bregel subjected her cats to were “horrific,” according to the criminal complaint against her. Many of the cats were living with ear mites, fleas, respiratory and eye infections, parasites, and feline leukemia.
They were chronically underweight. Necropsies performed on some of the cats revealed that there was a “complete absence of content in their stomachs and small intestines” and that it would have taken “approximately one week for a cat’s intestinal [tract] to completely become void of food.” Bregel’s home was condemned a short time later.
“It was horrible,” Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie told Oxygen.com. “They had clear stomachs. They hadn’t been eating. That’s just really pathetic.”
“It’s a nasty, ugly case, and it’s at the expense of these animals,” echoed Keith Streff, an investigator for the Animal Human Society, in an interview with Fox 9. “There’s already oversight—it’s just that you can’t predict what someone may do. If they’re very good today, that doesn’t mean something goes wrong tomorrow.”
Oxygen.com was unable to reach Bregel’s attorney, Steven Budke, for comment.
Bregel, who founded Minnesota Animal Rescue in 2017, fostered cats and dogs through the Animal Humane Society both at her home and rescue clinic in Farmington. She received 144 cats and one dog from the nonprofit between July 2017 and February 2018.
“This was a very disturbing case to follow, given that Caycee Bregel was operating an animal rescue,” Pat Repka, an administrator for Animal Advocates Unleashed, an animal advocacy Facebook group, told Oxygen.com.
Judge Jerome Abrams sentenced Bregel to two years probation, 200 hours community service, and ordered her to undergo a psychological evaluation. Bregel is also barred from caring or possessing any animals in Minnesota and will be subject to 90 days of electronic home monitoring. Prosecutors had sought a felony conviction and 180 days in jail in connection one count of animal abuse, but the judge reduced Bregel’s sentence to a misdemeanor.
"The abuse of animals is a very serious matter, and we will continue to treat cases of this nature accordingly," Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said in a statement to Oxygen.com.
Leslie, the Dakota County sheriff, called it a case of “good intentions gone wrong.”
Leslie said Bregel began her animal rescue operation with her ex-wife. The pair had reportedly split shortly before investigators discovered the nightmarish conditions at her Farmington home. The breakup, Leslie alleged, drove Bregel to animal abuse.
“When their relationship broke down ... when the breakup occurred, that’s when things kind of went south,” Leslie said. “Caycee [Bregel] could not keep up with the responsibilities of maintaining it on her own.”
Leslie said that while such animal-hoarding cases are rare, they’re not infrequent.
“They get too many animals—they can’t manage them and it gets overwhelming,” he added.
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