Saturday, July 19, 2003

California: Puppy mill breeder/hoarder Emma Harter won't sign over dogs until she can wiggle out of the $500k she already owes the shelter

CALIFORNIA -- The fate of 174 Chihuahuas housed at a shelter after being seized from an Acton breeder's home remained unresolved Thursday after an agreement on what to do with the dogs fell through.

Breeder Emma Harter did not want to sign on to the agreement, indicating that she wanted to talk to her husband first and also to Los Angeles County officials about the $500,000 in impound fees that she might be liable for, prosecutors said.

"She wanted to speak to her husband and was concerned about the impound fees," Deputy District Attorney Steven Heller said after a court hearing.

The dogs have been housed at a shelter in Baldwin Park since being taken by authorities from Harter's residence in November. It has cost the county about $500,000 so far to keep the dogs, a cost of about $2,000 a day, Heller said.

Lancaster Superior Court Judge Richard Spann put off making a decision about what to do with the dogs until a hearing next month.

At Harter's home, the animals were living in such tight quarters that the Chihuahuas had formed feral packs that preyed on weaker dogs, Los Angeles County animal control officials have said. Inbreeding also had affected their behavior, officials said.

Officials at the shelter said just 36 of the dogs are adoptable, but officials with a Burbank-based Chihuahua rescue group that has been leading the effort to save the dogs from being destroyed have said the dogs can be rehabilitated and saved.

The proposed agreement called for the dogs to be handed over to Chihuahua Rescue to be adopted, rehabilitated for adoption or housed in humane conditions for the remainder of their lives, Heller said.

The attorney for Chihuahua Rescue said in court that the organization had worked with Harter to come to an agreement.

"We have been working with Miss Harter to try to facilitate this. We are just as surprised as anyone that this has occurred today," attorney Shannon Keith said in court. "We have folders of rescue organizations ready to take the dogs."

After the hearing, Kimi Peck, founder of Chihuahua Rescue, said she was devastated and declined to comment further.

Harter's attorney said in court that Harter was unable to reach her husband by cell phone.

Harter, 72, whose 1995 conviction for operating an illegal kennel was overturned, is facing felony animal-cruelty charges in the case.

She has not been arraigned, pending a decision by the judge about what to do with the dogs. Harter, a retired school cafeteria manager, remains free on her own recognizance.

Harter was convicted in 1995 of operating an illegal kennel for about 40 Chihuahuas that shared her home but acquitted of charges of creating excessive noise and a public nuisance when her dogs barked.

She received a suspended sentence of up to 180 days in jail and was ordered to erect a building to house the tiny canines on her three-acre spread rather than keep the animals in her house.

An appellate panel of three judges reversed Harter's conviction in 1997, citing a trial court error in instructing the jury. Prosecutors at the time decided not to retry the case because it appeared Harter had corrected the problems, officials said. -- and because twenty years ago they didn't know how to prosecute criminal cases involving cruel confinement/hoarding.

(LA Daily News - July 18, 2003)