Questions raised about Metro Animal Control search and seizure

Published: Mar. 19, 2009 at 11:58 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 22, 2009 at 12:35 PM EDT
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Dr. Damon Campbell
Dr. Damon Campbell

By Connie Leonard - bio | email
Posted By Mike Dever - email

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - After two people were killed in Jefferson County by aggressive dogs, Metro Council members came up with a new animal ordinance to make the city safer, but the rewritten ordinance is stirring up a firestorm of  controversy, with some people are complaining that Animal Services officers are going after harmless animals.

The new law gives Metro Animal Services something it's officers never had before: the ability to investigate. Now it can get warrants, go into a home and seize animals. The question now is whether they have the right targets and if they are acting above the law in any way.

With a search warrant in hand, an example of the animal control ordinance in action came Thursday afternoon through a tip. Officers from Metro Animal Services working with LMPD officers found more than 30 sick cats crammed in close quarters and living in their own feces on Model Road in Shively.

The homeowner told us she meant well, but just got overwhelmed.

That raid was a good example the ordinance working as it should. But, a letter to the Jefferson County Attorney claims those kind of search and seizures are few and far between. The letter says harmless animals are targets of such seizures more often than not - a far cry from the vicious pit bull mixes that attacked and killed Louisville resident Hulon Barbour.

Barbour's death was the primary reason for rewriting the ordinance in the first place.  One of several attorneys representing breeders sent the letter, claiming the methods used by Animal Services are intimidating and possibly illegal.

"A person charged with murder has more rights than we do," said Janet Head, a part-time breeder who recently had her dogs seized. Head and her sister, Madge Cogswell, spent the last two days in court trying to get their five miniature Schnauzer dogs and puppies back.

The two sisters say they just called Metro Animal Services last week to find out what kind of license they needed for their small part-time breeding business. Then, on Monday, Janet got a call from a neighbor who saw officers from Animal Services inside her house taking her dogs.

"They were coming in and out of our front door according to our neighbors," Head said. "And I think they broke into my house, and I think that's terrible!"

The officers left a search warrant in Head's door, then paid a visit to her sister's home. "I was very panicked," Cogswell said.

That's when an officer told her that her three dogs were being taken from her.

"I said: 'what are they going to do?' And he said they're not going to do anything to them tonight, but they will be neutered or spayed," Cogswell said.

Both women say altering the show dogs will reduce their value.

Dr. Damon Campbell a Louisville Veterinarian who has taken care of the women's dogs disagrees with the way Animal Services handled the situation.

"These ladies are legitimate breeders," Campbell said. "They take good care of their animals."

Campbell told us all the dogs were up to date on their shots and he can't believe the sisters are a target of  animal control. "This is not where the problem is. These are not vicious animals. They don't attack people - and they're toy dogs!"

Campbell believes it's all about money: Cogswell and Head had to pay more than $1,300  to get the dogs back.

Metro Animal Services spokeswoman Jackie Gulbe said the women were targeted because they didn't have a proper license. "A kennel license is nothing new, and it's been on the books for decades."

Gulbe insists the ordinance calls for an end to back yard breeders and they can't discriminate between miniature schnauzers and pit bulls. She says they are simply following the law.

"Until Metro Council takes it upon themselves to make some changes, we will continue to do our jobs," Gulbe said.

A judge presiding over the court proceedings on Wednesday did grant the sisters an injunction to get their dogs back and to keep Metro Animal Services from altering them.

Metro Councilman Kelly Downard told us he's had six to eight similar complaints in the past several months, and plans to address it with the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee.

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