GONZALES — It was a seemingly heartwarming sight.
Then-Sorrento Mayor Wilson Longanecker Jr. was bottle-feeding two newborn kittens that had lost their mother but were not available for adoption.
Longanecker, who was by himself, had stopped by Northside Humane Society’s table at a PetSmart in Baton Rouge on a Saturday in July 2012, looking for cats to adopt.
Longanecker told shelter volunteers he wanted his children to have cats in his big house in Sorrento.
“He said, ‘They’ll be spoiled,’ and I mean just laid on the charm, with bottle-feeding the baby kittens,” said Lori D’Arensbourg, president of the Northside Humane Society.
“We thought it was going to be a great home.”
She and other cat rescue volunteers were upset to learn this week that Longanecker, 42, already facing dozens of counts of possession of child pornography from October, was arrested Dec. 29 on seven counts of animal cruelty involving cats and were worried about the cats he adopted that day.
The abuse allegations came to light amid a separate investigation by the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office into claims Longanecker possessed child porn, on which he was arrested Oct. 23.
D’Arensbourg and Stacey Orillion, cat chairperson of the Capital Area Animal Welfare Society, said though it is unusual for someone to adopt cats for his children by himself, Longanecker introduced himself as Sorrento’s mayor and won volunteers over that day. CAAWS had a table next to Northside’s.
Longanecker filled out applications with questionnaires for screening potential new owners, paid fees of $80 to $100 per cat and took standard adoption publicity photographs with the three cats he adopted from the two organizations on July 7, 2012, only months before the alleged abuse.
“He was very nice and charming, how he was elected mayor I’m sure, very convincing,” D’Arensbourg said.
Longanecker, a former Sorrento town councilman, was mayor from mid-2011 to mid-2013.
An affidavit of probable cause supporting Longanecker’s arrest says state investigators found videos and images of torture and abuse of cats on electronic devices found in his home Oct. 23.
In the images, some cats were bloodied and without fur. Others were taped up with duct tape. One cat, an orange-and-white one, had its leg apparently broken by Longanecker, the affidavit says. The videos and images date from Oct. 8, 2012, to Jan. 9, 2013, the affidavit says.
Tim Pujol, Longanecker’s defense attorney, did not return a message for comment Thursday but said earlier this week that he has not yet spoken to Longanecker about the new counts. Longanecker remains in Ascension Parish Prison near Donaldsonville on $1.025 million bail.
Officials with other shelters in Baton Rouge said they had no record of Longanecker’s adopting their cats or did not respond to a request for comment.
Lester Kenyon, Ascension Parish government spokesman, said he could not comment about whether Longanecker had adopted animals from the parish shelter, due to the “ongoing criminal investigation.”
Wendy Decker, executive director of Cat Haven in Baton Rouge, said Longanecker did not adopt cats from her group but said the allegations are especially disturbing to those who rescue animals.
No connection has been made yet between the cats in the videos and images that state investigators found and the three cats Northside and CAAWS officials say Longanecker adopted from them on July 7, 2012. Both shelters gave Longanecker an orange-and-white cat, however.
The revelation Monday that the animal cruelty counts against Longanecker did involve cats was not a complete surprise for shelter volunteers. Orillion and D’Arensbourg said that shortly after the adoptions in July 2012, volunteers became concerned about the cats after receiving a tip and tried to do home checks.
They said Longanecker would not let them see the cats or told them stories about the cats’ demise that left them with doubts.
“It’s very disturbing,” Orillion said of the new cat abuse allegations, “and it brings it all up for all of us again. It feels like it just happened, like we’re all heartbroken again, not that I ever got over it.”
After their experiences with Longanecker, both Northside and CAAWS modified their adoption policies to require home checks first or at least that volunteers meet children who will be in an adopted cat’s home, the volunteer officials said.
Cat Haven’s Decker said her shelter received a pregnant cat from Longanecker’s home. The cat, which the shelter named Olivia, recently had eight kittens.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.