HUNTINGTON - A group of concerned citizens saved the lives of seven cats that were trapped in a hot car parked on Prospect Street in Guyandotte on Tuesday evening in an incident that demonstrates why the state's laws on animal cruelty should be toughened, an animal control officer said.

Jon Rutherford, animal control officer with the Huntington Cabell Wayne Animal Shelter, said the temperature in the vehicle was over 100 degrees. Two adult cats and a weeks-old kitten were found dead in the vehicle, he said, and two other cats escaped as community members found a way to unlock the car prior to Rutherford's arrival in an attempt to cool down the vehicle.

Rutherford said along with the deceased animals, the car was filled with feces. While the animals had food, it was also covered in feces and mold. There was no water. He said the cats were living in the car for about a week, being driven from place to place by the owner.

"The smell was horrendous," he said.

Rutherford cited a woman for 12 counts of animal cruelty, a misdemeanor crime in West Virginia carrying a sentence of a fine of no less than $300 and no more than $2,000, or up to six months in jail. She is expected in court later this month, Rutherford said.

He said because there was food in the car, state law does not consider what the woman did as "torture," though he pointed out it would if the subjects involved were people. State code defines torture of an animal as "an action taken for the primary purpose of inflicting pain."

"I really hope people get aggravated about it, because that's the only way our legislators are going to change the laws," Rutherford said, adding that the lax laws are part of why there are so many instances of animal cruelty in the state.

The seven rescued cats are residing at the shelter, which has a brand-new in-house veterinary technician as medical director to help nurse them to full health.

The Huntington Police Department responded to the scene Tuesday to assist Rutherford.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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