An elderly Glenwood woman - who a Howard County inspector said kept a house so filthy it wasn't fit for a dog - will be allowed to keep two dogs after all, according to a ruling by the Howard County Animal Matters Hearing Board.
The question now is, does she want them - on the county's terms?
Three months after Howard County animal control officers removed 19 dogs, including 10 puppies, from Katherine Richards' rural, run-down western county home, she has won approval to have two of them back, with conditions.
But Richards, 78, does not like the conditions.
"They want to come up here once a month and tell me how to feed my dogs. I'm a United States citizen. They're treating me like a criminal. Don't you think that's horrible?" she said yesterday .
County officials tried for weeks to negotiate an agreement with Richards, who says she likes having lots of pets and denies that she cannot care for them, but no agreement was signed.
This week, Richards complained that the county has kept her dogs so long in the Davis Road animal shelter that they may no longer be sociable enough to live with.
Earlier, while negotiations were under way, she said, "I can't understand why the county is always after me."
The puppies seized March 7 were adopted by families a few weeks after the April 2 board hearing in the case, when Richards voluntarily agreed to give them up. An order issued by the county Animal Matters Hearing Board this month attempts to end the situation.
The board found Richards innocent of animal cruelty but guilty of neglect, based on testimony from county inspectors that the house is strewn with junk, animal feces and urine, has an unusable kitchen and that the dogs lived in one upstairs room.
Richards denied all of that.
The ruling gives her permission to reclaim two of the dogs the county removed, if she first cleans her house and property, permits the county to verify that, and then allows regular monthly inspections by animal control officers.
At the board's hearing in April, animal control supervisor Lynn Neser testified that "returning even a single animal to this environment, I think, would make me guilty of cruelty and neglect. I think it's a sad situation."
County officials contended that Richards cannot care for the dogs properly but refuses to admit it. She does not drive and lives on the second floor of her secluded home, which is surrounded by vehicle parts and "No Trespassing" signs. Rooms are typically filled with debris and passable only through narrow corridors.
Yesterday, she said the items piled in her house are not debris. "I'm working on my house. I have furniture piled up. Antique furniture and boxes." She also denied the house smells from animal waste.
Neser testified that Richards allowed the dogs to defecate and urinate indoors on newspaper, which she then stored in plastic bags downstairs. The house smelled so foul that the inspector said her nose tingled and her eyes burned upon entering.
Mary Reese, Richards' attorney, claimed the woman takes good care of her dogs, but the county simply does not like the condition or smell of her house. Reese was not available for comment yesterday.
The decision states that the board believes Richards "does have love and compassion for her dogs," but concluded she "is not capable of caring for and sustaining a healthy, safe, and clean environment for the number of animals involved in this matter."
The confrontation in the spring with Richards, who lives on a 40-acre rural homestead within sight of Interstate 70 and up a dirt lane off the 15200 block Frederick Road, was the latest in a string of disputes.
The county removed 18 dogs from the property in January 2001, and all were put to death because they were either too ill or bad-tempered to save.
Her grown son, Joseph Richards, was held responsible for conditions at the property that time and was given 18 months' probation for animal cruelty and neglect.
In 1997, the county seized 37 animals - dogs, cats, rabbits and chickens - from the property. Richards said yesterday half those animals were not hers.
She has until July 6 to appeal the board's decision, but said she has not decided whether to appeal.