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)