Cat hoarders sentened; animals get new homes

Most of the 39 starving, flea-infested  cats rescued from a Brookline home in May have been adopted into permanent homes, and the couple who pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges have been fined and ordered to pay $3,000 to the nonprofit group that cared for the cats.

Heather Risko, 42, and her estranged husband, Michael Risko, 38, entered guilty pleas Oct. 20. They were not sentenced to time in jail.

The sounds of hungry cats meowing, crying and screaming in a house at 608 Elmbank St. attracted the attention of neighbors who called Pittsburgh Police. Officers Christine Luffey and Tracy Schweitzer responded and found 11 dead kittens inside the home.

Mrs. Risko is to pay $2,000 in restitution and Mr. Risko was ordered to pay $1,000 to the Homeless Cat Management Team, which spent more than $10,000 for spay/neuter surgeries and other veterinary care, said Tarra Provident, a volunteer with the organization and one of the neighbors who helped police trap and remove the cats. 

Thirty-four of the cats were placed in foster homes provided by members of Homeless Cat Management Team, Ms. Provident said. Only three still need permanent homes — one short-haired brown tabby and two long-haired brown tabbies.

Animal Friends took five of the cats to its Ohio Township shelter, and all but one have been adopted.

Forty-six counts of animal cruelty were dropped. Mrs. Risko pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts and two summary counts of cruelty to animals. She agreed to pay a $100 fine for one count of failing to provide a rabies vaccination, $100 for harboring a nuisance and $350 for exceeding the number of pets permitted in a residence. 

Mrs. Risko will also pay $100 to Officer Schweitzer for shoes ruined when she went into the home, said Phillip DiLucente, her defense attorney. A hazmat team was not available to go into the house, which was filled with feces, urine and the decaying bodies of the kittens.

Mr. Risko pleaded guilty to one count of summary cruelty to animals and agreed to pay $100 for harboring a nuisance, $100 for failing to provide a rabies vaccination and $350 for exceeding the pet limit.

Cats available for adoption through the Homeless Cat Management Team can be seen at or

The last Brookline cat at Animal Friends is Chester, a gray tabby about 18 months old. Staff members say he was initially “unsure of his surroundings and people,” but he has blossomed into a playful and friendly cat.

Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064.