Tuesday, February 17, 2009
RIP all Wildside Kennel Dogs...
County law requires action; Humane Society, others back the court's decision
By Monte Mitchell | Journal Reporter
Published: February 17, 2009
A Superior Court judge yesterday ordered that Wilkes County destroy more than 127 pit bulls seized from a dog-fighting ring, angering people who had offered to adopt the dogs or help with their placement.
"Those dogs are going to be killed solely because of prejudice," said Ledy VanKavage, an attorney for Best Friends Animal Society, which had offered to pay to have the dogs evaluated and to spay or neuter the adoptable dogs.
"They should be judged as individuals just as people are," VanKavage said. "It's a massacre."
County officials have said they would abide by a judge's order, but that the judge didn't have a lot of choice. They said that state statutes define dogs involved in dog-fighting operations as dangerous and that a county ordinance requires that dangerous dogs be destroyed. That was yesterday's finding by Superior Court Judge Ed Wilson Jr.
The 127 pit bulls, including about 60 puppies, were seized on Dec. 10 during a raid on Wildside Kennels. It's unclear exactly how many dogs there are now. The dogs are being held in a secret location, and several litters of puppies have been born since the raid. After court yesterday, county officials estimated that there are about 150 dogs now.
Kennel owner Ed Faron, 61, pleaded guilty Thursday to 14 counts of felony dog fighting and was sentenced to 8 to 10 months in prison. His adopted son, Donni Juan Casanova, 18, pleaded guilty to one count of felony dog fighting and was given a suspended sentence of 6 to 8 months.
Amanda Grace Lunsford, 25, the third defendant in the case, pleaded guilty yesterday to a misdemeanor count of cruelty to animals. She had originally been charged with felony dog fighting.
Lunsford is Casanova's fiancée and had been living at the house less than a month at the time of the raid, her attorney said, and her role was to feed and water the dogs. Lunsford was sentenced to 45 days, which was suspended for 24 months of supervised probation.
A judge had awarded the dogs to Wilkes County last month after Faron failed to pay $52,925 that the county had requested for boarding and care of the dogs.
Wilson ordered the dogs destroyed yesterday after hearing from a prosecutor, the attorney for Wilkes County government, Wilkes County's animal-control director and two representatives from The Humane Society of the U.S., who all called for the dogs be euthanized.
Amanda Arrington, N.C. director for The Humane Society of the U.S., and Chris Schindler, the agency's deputy manager of animal-fighting law enforcement, both told the judge that these particular dogs have been bred for aggression. The Humane Society of the U.S. was the lead agency involved in the undercover investigation that led to the arrests.
Wilkes Animal Control Director Junior Simmons told the judge that some of the dogs that were puppies when they were seized in December are already showing aggression toward each other.
"They're not just play fighting," he said. "They're starting to draw blood."
Best Friends Animal Society, which operates one the nation's largest animal sanctuaries, had contacted County Attorney Tony Triplett within days of the December raid. The group had offered to work with rescue agencies to place the dogs.
But when Judge Wilson asked yesterday if Best Friends had gotten involved at the last minute, Assistant District Attorney Fred Bauer told the judge that the group had called him last Thursday and Friday, and had called his boss, District Attorney Tom Horner, yesterday.
"That's just totally misconstruing the contacts we had with the county attorney and the attempts we tried to have with the DA," VanKavage said.
She said she left a message for Bauer a month ago, on either Jan. 13 or 14, and had made at least three attempts to contact the DA's office. "I left a message for Fred Bauer and he never returned my call," she said.
After court yesterday, Bauer said he couldn't recall if he'd gotten a message from Best Friends, but that he didn't intend to mislead Wilson and would clear it up with the judge today if there was any misunderstanding.
The case had been set for trial next month. People working on rescuing the dogs thought they had more time.
VanKavage said that when she learned about yesterday's ruling she called Wilkesboro attorney William Burke to seek an injunction against destroying the dogs. She said Burke reported that when he got to the courthouse shortly before it closed, the judge was gone and the order was already signed. She said that Burke told her he thought the dogs would be dead before he could get the request before the judge.
It was unclear last night if the dogs had already been destroyed.
VanKavage said that Bauer misrepresented her side's interest to the judge and it affected the proceeding.
"I think the judge wanted to hear our side of it and if we'd gotten some notice, we could have gotten into that courtroom, but the DA's office chose to stonewall us and because of that, these puppies died," she said.
The Humane Society had to buy additional cages to separate some of the dogs because of their aggressiveness, Bauer told the judge.
Simmons told the judge that Wilkes County picks up about 5,500 dogs and cats a year, and places about 1,500 in homes. The rest are euthanized.
■ Monte Mitchell can be reached in Wilkesboro at 336-667-5691 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.