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Man who left kitten in bag gets probation

Published Sep. 29, 2005

The way Tom Turner sees it, he was just helping to find a kitten a home. The authorities didn't see it that way, so the co-owner of Sunken Gardens was convicted of animal cruelty.

Turner, 52, recently pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor animal-cruelty charge and was sentenced to six months of probation.

Police say he left a small kitten hanging in a plastic bag on the front doorknob at the home of his brother, Jim Turner, also a co-owner of the now-defunct Sunken Gardens tourist attraction.

The kitten was found by Jim's wife, Daryl Turner, who complained to authorities.

"Tom's point of view is that he brought the kitten to his sister-in-law and left it at her house because she is well known for placing stray animals," said lawyer George Rahdert, who represents the Turner family. "She didn't like the way he handled the cat."

The kitten, 2 or 3 weeks old, was so young that it couldn't stand on its own, police said. Daryl Turner found it when she came home the night of April 21. She took it to a veterinarian, and it survived.

Tom Turner was charged with the misdemeanor April 28. He pleaded no contest July 19. Aside from the probation, he was ordered to perform 25 hours of community service with an animal-oriented group such as the Humane Society or SPCA.

"It was a stray kitten that Tom had rescued from an attic. He was trying to pass it on to his sister-in-law rather than destroy it," said Rahdert, who also represents the Times on First Amendment issues.

Tom Turner, who couldn't be reached for comment, owns Sunken Gardens with his brothers, Jim and Ray. The three bought the attraction from their father in 1979. They tried to sell it for a decade before closing it in June.

Last month, the St. Petersburg City Council agreed to buy the 4-acre attraction at 1825 Fourth St. N for $2.26-million. The real estate closing is set for Sept. 1.

"This is essentially a family dispute, arising during a very stressful time during which the family was closing down a three-generation-old business," Rahdert said. "Tom is trying to get it behind him."