Dogs seized from home put to death

They were 5 of 19 animals taken in March from woman accused of neglect

July 09, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

In a sad ending to the latest chapter in Howard County's long struggle with a rural woman over the care of her numerous pets, five dogs seized from Katherine Richards in March were put to death yesterday, while two were adopted and two more sent for rehabilitation by county animal control officials. Ten Labrador puppies among the 19 animals seized in March have been adopted by other county residents.

The action on the nine adult dogs occurred after Richards, 78, of Glenwood in the western county, failed either to appeal a June 6 ruling in her case by the county Animal Matters Hearing Board, or agree to the deal offered her, according to Cpl. Lisa Myers, police spokeswoman. The board said she could have two dogs back if she first cleaned her house and agreed to monthly county inspection visits.

Deborah Baracco, animal control administrator, said the five euthanized dogs were physically sound, but "too aggressive" to adopt. A private Labrador rescue group will take two more dogs to work with until they are docile enough to be adoptable. The mother of the 10 puppies and a Rottweiler - offered to Richards in the board's decision - were to be adopted today by other county families. Baracco credited the work of staff and volunteers at the Davis Road shelter for salvaging four of the nine dogs.

But an alternately angry and tearful Richards claimed that all nine animals were fine, despite testimony in April by a county inspector that returning even one to her would constitute cruelty and neglect.

"I could have put those five dogs in my back yard, in doghouses," Richards said after learning their fate. "I loved them. I cared for them. I could sit down right now and cry. They took an old lady's dogs away from her."

To get two of the dogs back, the board's decision finding her guilty of animal neglect required Richards to clean her home and submit to regular monthly inspections by county officials - something she has said she is not willing to do.

"They wanted to come and inspect my dogs and my house the rest of my days," Richards said, adding that the county might as well have "put a shackle on my leg."

The board's decision noted that Richards "does have love and compassion" for her animals, but alleged she is incapable of caring for them.

She has hotly denied that, claiming instead that the county is harassing her because of her living conditions. A zoning violation notice is outstanding against the Richard's homestead because of the numerous abandoned vehicles and equipment stored on the wooded property.

Animal control officer Lynn Neser told the board in April that Richards' home was nearly overflowing with furniture and debris - to the point that only a small path between the items piled shoulder-high is open for walking. The kitchen isn't used, and testimony indicated that the bathroom is in very bad condition. Richards used a microwave oven and a small refrigerator in her living room for food and a pellet stove for heat, and she washed her clothes in a bucket of water, Neser said. The home reeked of animal waste, much of which was kept in a downstairs room in plastic bags.

Richards does not drive, and her home is isolated, far from the road, making her dependent on others for transportation and supplies.

Howard County has seized numerous animals from her 40-acre rural property over the years, based on claims that the woman is unable to properly care for them in her ramshackle home in the 15200 block of Frederick Road. The county took 37 animals in 1997, including dogs, cats, rabbits and chickens, and 18 dogs in January last year. All of the latter in such poor shape they were put to death, county officials said.

A county Circuit Court judge held Richards' son Joseph, who also lived in the home until late last year, responsible for animal cruelty and neglect, and placed him on 18 months' probation.

Mrs. Richards then assembled a new group of dogs, which led to the March 7 visit.

Richards has insisted she fed her dogs very well and cared for them properly, but she conceded that the house "looks terrible." She also said the dogs have a way outside, through a hole in the home's back wall.

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