Saturday, July 24, 2004

California: Emma Harter, 73, Gets Probation for Forcing More Than 230 Chihuahuas and 60 Birds to Live (and Die) in Squalor

CALIFORNIA -- Emma Regina Harter, an animal breeder convicted of keeping more than 230 Chihuahuas in squalid conditions at her Acton home, was sentenced Thursday to five years' probation and barred from owning any animals during that time.

Harter, 73, was also ordered to receive psychological treatment.

Harter seemed unmoved by the sentence, a far cry from her reaction during her trial four months ago. She collapsed in the Lancaster courtroom after she was found guilty of four felony counts of animal abuse and four misdemeanor charges, including battery on an animal control officer.

On Thursday, Harter, wearing a blue dress and a long pearl necklace, quietly watched her attorney, Robert D. Conaway, unsuccessfully argue for a new trial. Footage taken by animal control officers as they entered Harter's home unfairly influenced the jury, Conaway told the court.

Instead, Superior Court Judge Lisa Chung agreed to spare Harter the three-year prison term allowed by law. Prosecutors said Harter's age -- and a clean record -- made her unsuitable for incarceration.

"I just don't see how sending Ms. Harter to state prison for three years is going to do anybody any good," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Steven Heller after the sentence. "Putting her in jail with hardened criminals was not an adequate result."


Nonetheless, Harter was ordered to follow a series of restrictions. She will be subject to periodic visits from animal control officers to ensure that she is not keeping animals at her property during the probation.

Harter also cannot live with anyone who owns an animal. Harter's attorney said his client was considering an appeal of the sentence.

In March, a jury took 45 minutes to convict Harter. Officials in that hearing testified that hundreds of Chihuahuas, some of them sick or injured, roamed Harter's property and four-bedroom home, sometimes defecating inside the house. Some dogs became feral, forming packs, fighting and occasionally killing each other.

Many of the Chihuahuas died from illness, officials said. About 150 were saved and turned over to Chihuahua rescue groups for treatment and possible adoption.

Impounding and treating the dogs cost the county about $440,000, officials said. Harter will return to court in September to face a restitution hearing for those costs.

Harter said she began breeding Chihuahuas in 1982 when she was living in Granada Hills, where she got into similar troubles with Los Angeles city animal control officials. 

She then moved to Acton in 1992 and obtained a kennel license. Within three years, she was caught with about 40 Chihuahuas living inside the home in squalor and charged.

(LA Times - July 23, 2004)


Thursday, July 22, 2004

Illinois: Cat hoarder Lynda Smith found guilty, given probation. She and her husband Larry Smith still in denial

ILLINOIS -- The Kane County state's attorney stepped in this week to resolve the case of Aurora resident Lynda Smith, who once hoarded and neglected 26 cats in her home and could have faced felony charges, but instead was found guilty of animal cruelty and sentenced to 24 months' probation.

Smith, who also was convicted of failure of owner's duties, a misdemeanor, will not be able to keep cats in her home for two years. She also agreed to unannounced inspections of her home on George Avenue for the duration of probation.

"I became aware that the case was taking too much time because there were too many attorneys involved," State's Atty. Meg Gorecki said. "I assigned the file to myself in hopes of resolving the case.

"My concern was for the neighborhood and any animals that could be harmed in the future," Gorecki added.

She said that if animals are found in Smith's home during inspections, a violation of probation could be issued along with a notice to appear in court.

"Or we could issue a warrant [for her arrest]. It would depend on the severity of the violation alleged," Gorecki said.

When Smith's lawyer, Michael Noland, explained that for two years she will not be able to have any pets, Smith said: "I will die. It will kill me."

The prosecution produced photographs Monday of cats that were said to have been seized from Smith's brother's home. The photos of the cats, euthanized after their seizure, showed visible injuries and were said to be "lethargic and dehydrated."

Smith cried foul because the animals were not found in her home, and although she admitted one injured cat had been in her care, she said it had been given to her that way by a neighbor.

"I believe you when you say this cat came from [a neighbor]," Noland told his client. "But it's not necessarily about what the truth is. It's about what you can prove."

Last August and September, Aurora Animal Control removed 26 cats and a dog from Smith's residence and her brother's residence on Smith Street, according to Linda Nass, animal control manager.

Aurora allows citizens a limit of four domesticated animals per household: two cats and two dogs. Most of the animals were at her brother's house, where Smith was assumed to be living because her home was "deemed unfit for human habitation," Nass said. No charges have been filed against Smith's brother.

Larry Smith said his wife was "never cruel to animals. If an animal was sick, she called the vet. She has even done CPR on cats."

Although last month Smith could have agreed to a deal to sell her house to the city for $70,000, plead to reduced charges and have fines and court costs waived, she refused. Her lawyer at the time, Salvatore Miglore, withdrew from her case that day.

(Chicago Tribune - July 21, 2004)