Woman in animal cruelty case drops claim

Accused of keeping more than 100 dogs in 2 houses, she will not try to get animals back

June 02, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

The woman accused of hoarding more than 100 dogs in two Harford County homes will drop her appeal to get them back, making the animals available for adoption starting next week, county officials and the woman's lawyer said yesterday.

An attorney for Donna Lee Bell told The Sun yesterday that his client wants to see the animals placed in good homes.

"This is a woman who really cares about these animals, and she just got carried away with it," said Leonard H. Shapiro, an Owings Mills criminal attorney.

Bell, 59, was arrested last month and charged with 118 counts of animal cruelty after dozens of dogs and some cats were found living amid filth and carcasses in her two Whiteford properties.

Last week, she filed a complaint alleging that the animals were "unlawfully and wrongly" taken from her home and that she was entitled to "immediate possession" of them.

Shapiro acknowledged that Bell, once known in animal rescue circles as a caregiver, was responsible for the hoarding of the animals, but said her actions may have been caused by a mental condition and were not intended to cause harm.

"She has literally devoted an enormous amount of time to taking care of animals and got to a point where she couldn't say no," Shapiro said. "There's a recognized psychiatric condition and we'll have a professional talk to her, but it's certainly not a situation where she set out to cause harm."

By filing the complaint to get the dogs back, Bell has done part of the prosecutor's job in proving the animal cruelty charge, said Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly.

"In the criminal case, the issue is were the dogs treated cruelly and who treated them cruelly, and she filed a civil suit saying, `They're mine and I want them back,'" Cassilly said.

Tammy Zaluzney, executive director of the Harford Humane Society in Fallston, said Bell's decision to refrain from reclaiming the animals is "fantastic news."

Since being recovered from Bell's properties, the 69 dogs and four cats known as the "Whiteford 73" have stayed in a makeshift shelter in Fallston, where numerous volunteers are helping to care for them. On Wednesday night, one of them, a hound named Lucky, had seven puppies.

"It's their next step to a happy home, which is what we wish for them," Zaluzney said.

The Humane Society plans to accept applications for adoption of the pets from 1 p.m. Wednesday until 5 p.m. on June 10.

Justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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