The Henry County Fiscal Court has done what the Kentucky General Assembly did not.
Last week, the magistrates approved an amendment to the county’s “dog ordinance” to include language from House Bill 273.
Rep. Ron Crimm, (R-Louisville) authored and filed H.B. 273 during the 2012 legislative session. The bill would have prohibited anyone from owning an animal of the same species for two years if they pleaded guilty, entered an Alford plea or were convicted of 2nd degree cruelty to animals. For Henry County Animal Control Officer Dan Flinkfelt, the statute facelift is long overdue.
“The old statutes were so vague it allowed people in cases like these to possibly get their pets back,” Flinkfelt said. “With this statute, no matter the plea it takes ownership out of the equation.”
According to Flinkfelt, a case similar to the Terri Smith puppy mill case can last from six months to four years.
Animals must be held as evidence; shelters are allowed to do necessary medical procedures like shots, but otherwise the seized animals are put into foster homes and small shelters.
Flinkfelt went to Frankfort to testify in support of the bill, which ultimately wasn’t heard, and credits the work of magistrates Roger Hartledge, Nick Hawkins and Mike Fischer for helping make the statute a reality in Henry County.
“Henry County ordinances haven’t been changed since 1994,” Flinkfelt said. “We’ve only been here for a year and we are making good changes. We aren’t going to wait on the House of Representatives and hopefully the state will follow suit.”
Without the update to the statute, people like Terri Smith could own animals or request permission to have confiscated animals returned to them, Flinkfelt said.
Smith appeared in District Court Monday to request to serve her sentence through home incarceration. District Court Judge Diana Wheeler accepted a letter from Smith’s doctor and approved home incarceration. Wheeler asked Smith how she planned to pay $5,839.98 of restitution and fees.
“To be honest, I don’t know where to start,” Smith said. “I get social security from my husband but that is it.”
Wheeler asked Smith why she entered the plea deal if she didn’t have a job to pay the agreed amount.
Smith said she thought the sale of her confiscated animals would cover the costs. Smith’s attorney agreed that they had not received an accurate account of how much the animals were sold for and suspected they were not sold at fair market value.
“We sold a horse Smith and her attorney valued at $10,000 for $285 at a state auction,” Flinkfelt said. “She would take animals from Craigslist or from an ad in the paper, take it home and breed it and then sell them for $350 as if they were pure bred.”
Flinkfelt spent 3.5 months investigating Smith, who sold animals at flea markets in Simpsonville and Mount Washington. Satellite imagery was used to ensure search warrants included every part of her land. He also witnessed her prior to the raid negotiating a price with a prospective buyer.
“I watched her tell a guy she wouldn’t go any lower than $350 for a dog at her booth,” Flinkfelt said. “If the people you are purchasing an animal from can’t present paperwork don’t ever buy from them. Breeders document pedigree.”
The judge gave Smith until July 22, 2013 to pay the restitution. Smith must start home incarceration for110 days on or before July 2.
Henry County Attorney Virginia Harrod found Smith’s inability to find resources to pay for restitution contradictory to Smith having the funds to pay for the home incarceration program.
“They never have money for victim restitution, but they always do for home incarceration,” Harrod said.
Flinkfelt considers the case being closed, a new statute in place and the new Henry County Animal Shelter soon to open to all be positive changes.
“We’ve only been here a year in July,” Flinkfelt said. “We have returned 72 animals back to their owners. We have rescued 446 animals and placed 626.”
The shelter also does an outreach program with inmates at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in La Grange where inmates train dogs to do simple commands. The shelter has had 180 adoptions in light of 372 owners who surrendered their animals to the shelter.
“Some owners simply state because their financial situation has changed they can’t care for their pets anymore,” Flinkfelt said. “…And some of the 372 also come from breeders who can’t sell them.”