March 2 - 8, 2000
From the road, it looks like a typical rural
dwelling. The only things visible from the gravel lane are a mobile home
and a long, dirt driveway. Once on the property, there’s no barking or
other evidence suggesting that at least two dozen dogs occupy a plot of
land with their human caretakers.
Randy and Suzie Long start their days early. Five
days a week, Suzie leaves the mobile home to drive to her Westport
hairstyling business in Kansas City, 73 miles from the Akita Rescue
operation they have established on their land in Williamsburg, Kan., 45
miles south of Topeka in Franklin County.
After his wife leaves, Long tends to the chores
of taking care of at least 20 Akitas, two pot-bellied pigs and two
horses, one of which had been maimed by its owner to collect insurance
money. “There is not a typical day in what I do,” he says. “But
there are constants that have to be maintained.”
Long visits the two rows of large dog runs and
waters, feeds, and gives treats to all the dogs, then plays with them so
the dogs get a consistent dose of human interaction. Kennels are cleaned
several times a day and when he is not tending to the physical needs of
the animals, Long does administrative work: answering e-mails about
rescues, setting up rescues in other states and wading through the
paperwork necessary to obtain a 501 C (3) non-profit status with the IRS
for the Akita Adoption and Rescue of Mid-America.
“This will allow for donations to be tax
deductible for individuals and corporations. It would also allow for
more effective fund-raising designed to improve our facilities, hire
some staff, help defray the medical bills for the dogs we care for and
increase our outreach,” Long says.
Randy and Suzie Long’s rescue is just one of
the hundreds of grassroots animal rescues that have cropped up in Kansas
and Missouri. For more than a year, the Longs lived on the property in
just a pop-up trailer with no running water or electricity. They took
their life savings and bought the property to operate their rescue. They
became involved in rescue work five years ago when they were seeking to
adopt an Akita from the founder of a Akita rescue who was retiring.
“There really was a huge need for rescue in
this breed because there was no other rescue,” Long says. “I
haven’t seen any changes (for animal welfare) that I can attribute to
improvements in the laws. Pets are still sold by millers and backyard
breeders without proper vaccinations and wormings, too early, and
without the least in terms of education or advice for purchasers.”
Akitas are ancient Japanese hunting dogs that date back 2,500
years. They are large dogs similar to Malamutes or Huskies, and
can weigh up to 150 pounds. “They were originally used in
mating pairs to hunt the Yezo bears,” says Long. The Japanese
later started breeding the dogs to make a larger and tougher
breed for fighting. Since then, Akitas have been used as
retrievers and police dogs.
The dogs are extremely friendly to humans
and fiercely loyal to their owners. Because of their size, they
are not a particularly popular breed and have gained somewhat of
a tainted reputation — like many other breeds — because some
owners illegally fight and exploit them.
“People still try to use them for
fighting, and many (Akitas) also need to be kept away from other
dogs of the same sex,” Long says. “Like with any breed a
person is thinking of getting, the dog should be researched to
see if it would be compatible with the family.”
At least half of the dogs at the Long
rescue site come from puppy mills (Missouri ranks as the No. 1
puppy-producing state; Kansas follows a close second) and the
rest were voluntarily relinquished by their owners.
“I have heard them all,” Long says
while handing out treats to the anxious but friendly dogs.
“From one person who said she got new carpet and the dog
didn’t go with the new decor, to one person who told me her
dog had a special ability to carry and transfer poison ivy on
A few times a week, Long travels to
Ottawa to pick up damaged sacks of donated dog food from
Wal-Mart; to Melvern to haul water to their cistern and to Guy
& Mae’s, a restaurant in Williamsburg that donates meat
trimmings for the dogs.
“I don’t like to leave the place for
long,” he explains. “We have been harassed by someone who
doesn’t like us being here since we moved in. They have called
the local sheriff and told him we are doing animal experiments
and turned us in to the state several times. Of course, their
complaints are always dismissed.”
Long’s facility is properly licensed as
a rescue, a privilege he says costs him $200 a year. “We
aren’t making money doing this and it only costs $100 more to
operate a puppy mill in the state,” he says.
Worse yet, last New Year’s Eve morning,
on the Longs’ wedding anniversary, Randy Long left the farm
for only a couple of hours to buy a doghouse and when he
returned found two of his dogs shot in their runs. “The one
that didn’t recover was such a sweetie,” he recalls. “He
was my own personal dog and was only 18 months old. He had been
shot in the neck from about five or six feet and most likely
didn’t die right away. I could tell by the blood trail that he
was standing on his hind legs in his run to greet whoever shot
him. That dog had never even barked or growled at anyone in his
The local sheriff came out and filed a
report, but the shooter has yet to be caught. “I don’t do a
lot of things because I feel bad, because Randy almost never
leaves here,” Suzie Long says. “We can’t leave them
Long says the local sheriff did what he
could to find the shooter. Even if he is caught, however, it’s
likely the case may not be prosecuted. Rural county prosecutors
who have to try animal cruelty in the courts often find
themselves overworked and understaffed, with too many cases to
handle. And because breeders are supposed to be regulated by the
United States Department of Agriculture and state health
departments, many local prosecutors are hesitant to cross the
line and criminally prosecute commercial facilities. The USDA is
only allowed to bring administrative charges against commercial
breeders, which could include penalties of fines or shutting
down the facilities.
Jackson County, Kan., located about 30
miles north of Topeka just off Highway 75, has its share of
puppy mills, according to animal welfare activists. They say one
of the most horrific of those, called the Nielsen Farm, operated
on the outskirts of Holton, Kan., for years.
“I went in there very stupid. I thought
all people cared for animals until I visited that place,” says
Patty Bowser, president of the local Heart of Jackson Humane
Society. “I was very naive at that point.”
At the time, Bowser was a groomer in a
veterinarian’s office when she first came in contact with Amy
Nielsen, the owner of the puppy mill. Nielsen brought one of the
dogs into the clinic because it wouldn’t breed or grow hair.
“The dog was completely stressed. I cleaned her up and told
(the owner) to take her home and give her some love,” Bowser
Bowser says she mistakenly assumed
Nielsen cared for the animals because she had brought one in to
the vet. Bowser later learned the dog was most likely only
brought in so she could recover and breed again.
Bowser says she went to the farm twice
thinking she could help some of the dogs by grooming them there.
“There were cages stacked upon cages, and the dogs in the
upper cages would urinate and it would just fall onto the dogs
in the lower ones. It was like a concentration camp for
animals,” she recalls.
I have a 36-year-old male who puts peanut butter on his penis so
his three-year-old neighbor girl can lick it off, and
36-year-old mothers who burn their two year old with a cigarette
lighter, I choose to find those more important than a dog not
having adequate bedding," wrote Jackson County, Kan.,
Prosecutor Michael Ireland in a letter to PETA activist Peter
Bowser claims after she witnessed Nielsen
pulling a dog’s teeth without the benefit of anesthesia, she
could never go back. “It was sickening. I had never seen
anything like it in my life and all because she didn’t want
the vet bills.”
Local animal activists had been
complaining to the Kansas Animal Health Department and to the
USDA about the Nielsen Farm. Both agencies are responsible for
oversight of breeding facilities in Kansas. The USDA is charged
with enforcing the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which is
supposed to ensure those animals in commercial breeding
facilities and circuses have adequate food, shelter, and medical
and other basic care.
“Some of the laws regarding state and
federal laws overlap,” explains Peter Wood, research associate
for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
When seemingly no action was taken in the
Nielsen Farm case, animal activists called PETA and one of their
undercover investigators went to work at the Nielsen Farm. “We
have this terrible place on tape,” says Wood. “One of the
USDA inspectors came in supposedly to do an inspection, glanced
at the dogs and then asked one of the Nielsen employees out for
Rumors and allegations about the Nielsens’
closeness to the USDA had circulated through Jackson County for
some time. Activists allege that Bill Nielsen, Amy’s husband,
once worked for the USDA as a supervisor and that he had friends
at both the state and federal levels who controlled the
inspections. “The inspectors would always call before they
came out — just to make sure they were home,” quips Bowser.
Craig Reed, an administrator for the
USDA, wrote a letter dated Dec. 17, 1999, to a California
resident when she complained about possible violations of the
AWA on the Nielsen Farm. The letter stated: “The PETA report
also alleged that the Animal Care employee (USDA inspector) had
a conflict of interest, claiming that he had a previous
relationship with the facility owner, ‘a former USDA employee
and supervisor,’ and that he had engaged in a personal
relationship with a facility employee. The allegations regarding
possible misconduct by the Animal Care inspector are being
evaluated by our Agency’s Human Resource Division and by the
Resource Management System and Evaluation Staff.”
Jim Rogers, public relations coordinator
for the USDA, did not return phone calls to confirm that Bill
Nielsen had worked for the USDA. However, a source who wished
not to be identified says she spoke with a USDA employee this
past week and was told that Nielsen used to work in a department
that is now known as Risk Management.
When PETA completed its undercover work
and the local Topeka media turned their attention toward the
operation, the Nielsens decided to hold an auction and close the
farm. Undercover PETA investigators and local animal welfare
activists infiltrated the sale held last October and were able
to buy dogs being auctioned.
While still lobbying the state of Kansas
and the USDA to act on complaints, which would only bring
administrative charges against the Nielsens, PETA also wrote
Jackson County Prosecutor Michael Ireland and asked that
criminal charges be filed against the Nielsens for violations of
the local animal cruelty laws.
PETA’s tactics, which sometimes have
been described as radical and violent, have often alienated the
middle-of-the-road and more conservative animal activists.
Ireland says he found Peter Wood to be a “rude and insensitive
jerk.” In both a telephone interview and in a letter to Wood
dated Feb. 22, 2000, Ireland expressed that he has limited
resources and that he has to choose his fights.
“When I have a 36-year-old male who
puts peanut butter on his penis so his three-year-old neighbor
girl can lick it off, and 36-year-old mothers who burn their two
year old with a cigarette lighter, I choose to find those more
important than a dog not having adequate bedding,” wrote
“You fight your fights and I’ll fight
mine. But don’t ask me to sacrifice the limited amount of
time, energy, and resources I have to make sure a dog has
adequate bedding when I have children suffering. If I haven’t
made myself perfectly plain, you’re never going to get it.”
“We are not asking that he pick one law
over another,” counters Wood. “We are asking that he enforce
all of the laws. I guess he is the one who doesn’t get it.”
Local activist Maureen Woodhouse-Cummins
agrees. “Michael Ireland and I are close friends, and we have
had this discussion many times. I don’t believe in selective
law enforcement and he has prosecuted many cases at my
urging,” she says. “I just received a letter that he will be
pursuing a dog starvation case I brought to him.”
Ireland says he doesn’t turn a deaf ear
to cruelty cases, but he believed this case to be a
“name-calling match” between PETA and the Nielsens. “Since
the operation was shut down, I didn’t see what pressing
charges would accomplish,” he says. “The Nielsens wanted to
pursue charges against (PETA’s) people for their behavior at
the sale, and PETA wanted to pursue charges against them. I told
them both ‘no’ and hit the daily double. I made them all
“I advised PETA that if they didn’t
agree with my decision, they could contact the Kansas attorney
general,” Ireland adds. “I have only had the attorney
general step in and file charges once in my 17 years of
Ireland said that before the sale at the
Nielsen Farm, he had never heard of the Nielsens. “I had never
had any complaints against them, and I don’t believe the
sheriff’s department had never been called out there,” he
Bowser says that since she became
involved in animal welfare, she has been harassed and even
threatened by county employees. “When we were on a bird mill
case, Michael Ireland asked me himself: ‘Why don’t you get
yourself a life and quit worrying about these animals?’”
Bowser adds that on a recent horse
welfare case, a county jailer told her that Ireland was after
Ireland said he probably did tell Bowser
to get a life. “But you have to take it in the context of what
was happening,” he says. “These women broke into this
lady’s house, and I was a little upset by that. I did file
animal cruelty against the (bird) lady. We did end that case
with a win-win situation because most of the birds were removed
from the woman.”
defended some of his decisions and behavior by saying, “In
this business, we have to develop a defense mechanism such as a
weird sense of humor or we would go home and cry every night. I
wore a cockatiel tie to that trial every day. We may have made
some light of it, but I don’t think it ever offended anyone.
We have kind of an ER mentality in that we have to find
some way to cope with what people do to each other everyday.
“I was probably more flippant with Wood
than I should have been. But I am a guy who doesn’t care about
political correctness. When someone asks me a question, they
will get a direct answer.”
The Nielsen Farm is out of business and
the USDA has filed a formal complaint against it for AWA
violations. Rumors have it that the Nielsens didn’t sell all
of their dogs and were setting up another breeding operation in
Arizona. Efforts to interview the Nielsens were unsuccessful.
According to Rogers, the USDA complaint
will follow the Nielsens no matter where they try to obtain a
license. “The complaint is against the people, not the
location,” he says.
But considering activists had tried to
get the facility shut down for three years, why did it take so
long for the USDA or the state to act?
Marshall Smith says he was a USDA
inspector in Missouri for 19 years before his job was
discontinued by the agency. He now works for an animal rights
group called In Defense of Animals.
“The USDA is basically just
window-dressing. They are so negligent in doing their jobs about
the most effective way to get them to do something is bring
embarrassment to them,” he says.
Smith believes his job was discontinued
because he was very critical of the process to protect animals
and enforce the AWA. He says that several years ago, the USDA
had started cutting the inspection staff down by one-third and
he started looking for people who were being forced into
retirement to testify against the cuts at a Senate
“I had put in for a promotion and was
offered the job,” he explains. “When they found out I was
looking for people to testify against the agency, the job offer
was withdrawn. After that, I sat at home for one year on salary
with no assignments.”
Smith then filed a whistle-blower lawsuit
in Washington, D.C., before his job was axed by the agency.
“They basically agreed with my lawsuit and started giving me
assignments again, but they were little ones that I had no
chance of winning in a hearing,” he says.
Smith admits the USDA had given him the
opportunity to move to Texas when his job was cut, but he still
questions why inspector jobs were being cut in Missouri, where
there are over 1,000 licensed breeders/dealers.
Since he began working for In Defense of
Animals three years ago, Smith has gone undercover with two
television newsmagazine programs to try to bust puppy mills.
According to Smith, Don Foster owns one of the most notorious
mills in Macon, Mo., which is a few miles from Springfield.
“When I moved here in 1986, this guy had a terrible reputation
for his facility,” says Smith.
USDA acknowledges that Foster has been
charged and fined for breaking basic animal care laws associated
with AWA enforcement. In August 1997, Foster was fined $15,000
— $11,000 of which was abated; $2,000 as directed toward
upgrading his facility, and $1,000 paid to the government for
prosecution of the case. Some of his more serious violations
were failure to provide veterinary care and failure to provide
the animals with clean, sanitary conditions.
Foster also was told that if he were
found to have any violations at the facility during the next two
years, the $11,000 portion of the fee that was abated would be
reimposed. By February 1998, USDA inspectors were still finding
violations at the Foster facility and those were documented
through 1999. Smith says that as of now the facility is still
operating with a license, and Foster has not been ordered to pay
the reimposed fine.
When reached by phone, Foster said he had
violations last year but contends that his last inspection three
to four months ago was clean. “The biggest complaint the USDA
had was identification of animals, which has nothing to do with
the welfare of the animals,” he says.
Foster claims that the $2,000 directed
toward upgrading the facility went toward new wire flooring on
the cages. He says he has about 100 dogs of several small breeds
and sells 200-300 puppies to pet stores per year. “My cages
are not stacked and are lined with fiberglass.
“But I think it is highly
discriminatory that I have to be licensed and breeders who sell
directly to the public and the pet stores do not,” Foster
“I really can’t comment on the Foster
case,” says the USDA’s Rogers. “It is labeled as an
Breeders who are often referred to as
backyard breeders and run ads in papers to sell directly to the
public do not have to have a license with the USDA. Legislation
has been introduced in Kansas giving the state jurisdiction over
USDA-licensed breeders to ensure that they provide “adequate
veterinary medical care’’ to animals they breed and sell.
HB2485 would give the Kansas Department
of Agriculture the power to require a yearly on-site veterinary
visit, humane care, and the ability to fine the breeders and
dealers if they fail to take an animal to a veterinarian when
ordered. The bill further provides the agency access to breeder
and dealer records.
Although HB2485 is designed to strengthen
the AWA and help the USDA, it doesn’t call for any stronger
action to be taken against noncompliant breeders than what the
USDA already could be imposing. Many facilities have done
business for years with documented noncompliance items.
Most animal activists and rescuers agree
that a large portion of the animal overpopulation problem comes
from licensed puppy mills and unlicensed backyard breeders.
Puppies from the Nielsen Farm have been traced all over the
United States, including to an upscale store in Trump Plaza in
New York City.
activists blame the American Kennel Club (AKC), which is
responsible for issuing papers on registered full breeds. “It
is obvious when a breeder registers thousands of dogs through
the club a year that they are running a puppy mill. But do you
realize how much the club is taking in for registration fees
from these irresponsible breeders?” asks one rescuer.
There is also a problem with the
overpopulation of cats. Many cat rescuers agree that the problem
lies within individual owners letting cats have kittens.
Although the National Society for the Protection of Animals (NSPA)
sometimes will care for dogs, their main focus in the Kansas
City area is on cats.
“We just don’t have the facilities
yet to care for dogs and we don’t have foster homes for
them,” says Barbara DeGraeve, president of the organization.
She has turned her house into a licensed cat shelter and harbors
55-60 cats in her Johnson County home. She says that “Adopt a
Pet” programs at area Petsmart stores are the shelter’s main
outlets for finding homes for the unwanted animals.
The NSPA also works on bringing charges
in animal cruelty cases. A few years ago its main focus was on
“The members said that the order of
importance for our efforts should be rescue, spay/neuter
programs, legislation, and education,” DeGraeve says. The NSPA
is raising funds to open a shelter facility in an abandoned
building in downtown Kansas City, Kan.
The Humane Society of Greater Kansas City
says the key is education. “We will support these bills as
they come up and we will write letters,” says Lorna Helmig,
director of shelter operations. “We don’t really spend a lot
of time lobbying. We try to focus on educating the public.”
In the past few months, the Humane
Society has recruited star spokespersons such as KC Royal Johnny
Damon to go into the schools and speak with children about how
to treat animals. The Humane Society has supported and
advertised such initiatives as National Spay/Neuter month.
The number of unwanted animals euthanized
in this country every year varies, depending on the reporting
agency. Helmig says the latest figures she has come from an
article that appeared in The Kansas City Star, which
surveyed all main shelters in the metropolitan area for their
“They reported that the shelters took
in 48,888 animals that year. Some were adopted out and owners
claimed some. But about 27,304 of those animals were euthanized.”
Nationally, numbers range anywhere from 6 million to 13 million.
“I think it has changed in the past 25-30 years. There are
more animals being spayed and neutered, and generally, people
are taking better care of their pets. Every little thing we do
helps,” Helmig says.
One thing that troubles the Humane
Society is rescue groups and shelters calling themselves “no
“You would really do a great service to
the animal welfare community if you didn’t label any of us as
‘no kill,’” says Lisa Pelofsky, public relations
coordinator for the society. “It really is a disservice to the
people who work in animal welfare every day because all of us
may have to be involved in the decision to euthanize an animal
at some point. If an animal is injured and suffering, we will
Helmig says the society’s facility is
not part of animal control and is not required by any agency to
keep taking in animals when they are at full capacity. “But
the local animal controls and shelters that serve them have no
choice. When more come in, they don’t have anywhere to go. It
is not any person’s first choice to have to euthanize, but it
really takes the blame off of the public when you say, ‘no
She says local breed rescues are
important because when many of the pure, or even sometimes the
mixed, breeds come in and the facilities are full, shelters can
call individual rescues to pick up the animals.
“Some shelters are better than
others,” Randy Long says. “But there still are many in and
around the Kansas City area who will not work with rescue.”
Differences in philosophy is one reason he says there are so
many rescue groups. “Some people think these big Akitas
don’t belong in runs. Well, of course they don’t. But they
shouldn’t be euthanized either. We haven’t even begun to
come together in this breed for rescue efforts. We are a long
way from bringing all of our philosophies together throughout
Helmig says her perception of the
problems that lie within the enforcement of AWA by the USDA is
that there are not enough inspectors to cover all of the rural
areas where puppy mills are mostly located.
USDA reports that it has only one
full-time inspector in the state of Kansas and three shared
inspectors with Oklahoma, Texas, and Nebraska. Two are shared
with Missouri. Kansas has just over 500 licensed breeders in the
state, but it is suspected that there are many more backyard
breeders who do not license their operations.
Missouri has eight full-time inspectors
(and the two that are shared with Kansas) for more than 1,000
licensed breeders. According to Rogers, the USDA filed
administrative charges against six breeders in Kansas in 1999
and 42 in Missouri the same year.
In Reed’s letter to the California
resident, he wrote, “With respect to your request for a
schedule of our inspections of breeders in the Midwest, Animal
Care officials perform random, unannounced inspections of all
licensed and registered facilities to ensure the most accurate
reflection of facilities’ compliance with the AWA. Disclosing
an inspection schedule to the public could compromise these
He adds that the USDA is now using a
risk-based model, more frequently searching facilities that have
a history of noncompliance issues.
Dogs sold from these mills sometimes end
up in research facilities, but they are mostly bred to go to pet
stores. Local animal rights group People for Animal Rights (PAR)
has joined national agencies to try to educate the public about
where animals usually come from that are bought in pet stores.
Their educational focus also has been on
the pet-theft issue and calling people who run “free to good
home” ads in the newspaper, warning owners about the dangers
“Bunchers will call these people in ads
and use the line that they are looking for a pet, when in fact,
they want to come and take the animal and sell it to research
facilities,” said Kelly Beard-Tittone, president of PAR. “If
these bunchers get desperate, they will also come into your
backyard and steal your pet.”
Although USDA-licensed Class B dealers
are allowed to sell animals to research facilities, it is
against the law for bunchers to misrepresent themselves and, of
course, to sell stolen animals to research. The facilities are
required to keep records of where they obtain the animals, but
these cases are rarely prosecuted.
Smith cited a 1994 case when he still
worked for the USDA, in which a buncher admittedly gave false
names to a breeder in Arkansas for his records and sold him dogs
that he did not know the origin of.
“This was a smoking gun — definitive
proof that a licensed dealer was accepting more dogs than he was
allowed for the purpose of selling to research. He also knew
that the buncher did not breed all of these animals and that he
was using false names. All of this is illegal and violates the
AWA. Even though I had a sworn affidavit from the buncher, the
USDA refused to prosecute the case and the breeder is still in
business,” Smith says.
the federal AWA law, criminal animal cruelty cases are
usually prosecuted at the local county levels according
to local statutes.
The torture case of Scruffy, the
Yorkshire terrier in Kansas City, Kan., has become
representative to many people of the need for stiffer
animal cruelty laws, particularly in Kansas. Scruffy was
stolen from his family and tortured in July 1997.
The dog was missing and its
owners had no idea what had happened to Scruffy until
February 1998, when a videotape of the dog’s killing
coincidentally turned up in an impounded car where
Scruffy’s owner worked.
The four individuals identified
in the tape were eventually convicted of felony arson
because the dog was placed in a bag and burned alive.
“If we had not found Scruffy’s owners, this would
have been only a misdemeanor case. We had to prove
ownership of property before we could charge them with
arson,” says Terra Morehead, assistant district
attorney for Wyandotte County. Kansas has no felony
animal cruelty law, but Morehead believed the killing to
be so disturbing, she pursued the felony conviction.
All four young men were
originally sentenced to probation and community service,
but two of the perpetrators broke the terms of their
probation, and because they both had previous felonies,
were sentenced to two years in prison.
Kansas Rep. David Haley, of the
34th District in Kansas City, sponsored what is known as
the “Scruffy Bill.” It would make torture and/or
mutilation of an animal a felony in Kansas.
The bill was introduced in 1998
and 1999 but has yet to be passed. Haley feels the law
is important, not because it could allow for stiffer
jail sentences, but because it would allow the courts to
place tighter restrictions on animal abusers if they
were convicted of a felony, such as requiring
“The felony law doesn’t
affect the person who comes home and kicks the dog
because he had a bad day. This law would affect those
predators who systematically prey on animals … people
who like watching something squirm while it is being
tortured until it dies. These people, such as in the
Scruffy case, get pleasure from that. This is how they
partied and got their kicks,” Haley says.
Last year, the Scruffy Bill was
amended into Senate Bill #181. Haley feels the bill has
not been passed due to resistance from legislators
representing farming communities. Haley says, “If they
would just look at the (Scruffy) tape, the Senate would
see we aren’t talking about farm animals.”
Morehead says that she
aggressively fought for the felony prosecution in the
case partly because of the studies linking the abuse of
animals to the eventual abuse or killing of humans.
“Two of the people prosecuted
in this case already had felony priors, ranging from
theft of a car to aggravated assault. In my opinion, the
violence had already started to escalate with one of
them,” she says.
She adds that she is a supporter
of the felony animal abuse law in Kansas, but it’s
been a tough fight. “When you start talking felony, it
becomes personal liberty issue because felons cannot
vote, possess firearms or be called for jury service,”
“I don’t know if any more
cases would be prosecuted if torture and mutilation of
an animal were a felony, but it may deter some of these
A 1996 issue of The Prosecutor
reports that in a study of 57 families being treated by
New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services for
incidents of child abuse, researchers found that animal
cruelty was “the sign of a deeply disturbed family.”
In 88 percent of these families
where physical abuse to children occurred, animals in
the home had also been abused either by the parents to
discipline the children or by the children to take out
their rage at being abused themselves.
Other studies indicate that in
the situation of spouse/partner abuse, the abuser will
harm or kill an animal to frighten or punish the spouse.
Many domestic violence shelters are now welcoming family
pets, because many women fear reprisals on the animals
if they leave them behind.
Missouri made torture and
mutilation of an animal a felony several years ago and
although some high profile cases did not result in a
felony conviction, the law is working, according to Jim
Kanatzar, assistant Jackson County, Mo., prosecutor.
“I am a big believer in the
jury system and we have tried animal abuse cases in
Missouri as felonies and have won,” he says.
In a recent trial, a jury failed
to convict Raytown resident Phillip Chandler of a felony
for shooting his golden retriever, Casey, as she cowered
in a crate.
Kanatzar says that the Missouri
felony law provides for cases involving a torture or
mutilation that results in the loss of a limb or organ
to the animal. Because Casey eventually lost an eye from
one of the three bullets to her head, the district
attorney’s office believed the case fulfilled the
requirement of the law.
“The jury, I think, was about
split on the felony,” Kanatzar says. “We don’t
know what drove the others not to convict.” Missouri
law also allows the jury to return a misdemeanor
conviction. “I think it was a compromise of the jury
to give the misdemeanor, but I accept the jury’s
decision,” Kanatzar says.
Although Chandler insisted at his
trial that he was simply trying to euthanize Casey
because she had chewed up a remote and had nipped at
him, Kanatzar never accepted his story.
“There was a woman at the
residence, who Chandler had been previously involved
with, who came back to pick up some of her clothes with
a man who had given her a ride to the residence. She
also had been the one to give the dog to Chandler. She
made a comment about the dog chewing on things and that
is when he placed the dog in the crate and shot it,”
Although Kanatzar says he
couldn’t be certain, or prove to a jury, that Chandler
was angry with the woman, he personally felt the
shooting was done to express his anger toward her.
“No one else believed that the
dog snapped at him either, because when the police
arrived and opened the crate, the dog crawled under a
table and hid. Even though she was seriously injured,
she never snapped or bit any of the officers or vets
that handled her.”
Miraculously, Casey survived and
Kanatzar says he believes Casey is doing fine with the
veterinary technician who adopted her. He adds that he
is satisfied with the sentence imposed on Chandler for
According to court records,
Chandler received a suspended one-year jail sentence and
was placed on probation for two years. He was to perform
at least 100 hours of community service. He also was
ordered not to possess animals or firearms, to attend
anger-control and Victim Impact Panels, and to pay
restitution to the veterinary clinic that treated Casey.
Animal welfare and animal rights
groups want to keep such cases in the public eye. Helmig
was one of the supporters of the Scruffy bill in Kansas.
“I think when a big trial like this comes along, this
issue is hot for awhile. If we wait for the perfect
bill, the momentum is eventually lost and everyone loses
— especially the animals,” she says.