Law-enforcement authorities shut down an animal shelter in Baker on Monday and were transferring 90 dogs and cats to the Fallon County fairgrounds on Tuesday.
Fallon County Attorney Rich Batterman said the seizure involved “in excess of 100” animals, but the Humane Society of the United States, which is working with the Fallon County Sheriff’s Department on the case, said 60 dogs and 30 cats were seized from the nonprofit Eastern Montana Humane Society.
The shelter, which is not affiliated with the Humane Society, was opened five years ago by Lisa Crow, the board president, and several other volunteers.
In addition to Humane Society officials from Montana and Washington, D.C., six volunteers with United Animal Nations traveled from as far away as Texas and Wisconsin to care for the animals at the temporary shelter. Janell Matthies, United Animal Nations’ emergency services manager, came from Sacramento, Calif., to assist with the rescue.
Batterman said the shelter in Baker was inspected a month ago by representatives of the state office of the Humane Society and the state Board of Veterinary Medicine, in response to a number of complaints about conditions at the shelter.
Conditions “were found to be unacceptable,” he said, and the shelter was given time to deal with the deficiencies.
“They were not successful,” he said, and his office obtained search warrants, which were served on Monday. Batterman said members of the board of the Eastern Montana Humane Society agreed to relinquish the dogs and cats to the county’s control.
Batterman said the shelter consisted of an unfinished building and outdoor kennels for the dogs, and an adjoining mobile home for the cats. The shelter is about five miles northwest of Baker.
He said there were issues with sanitation at the shelter, as well as inadequate water supplies and fire hazards. There were also concerns about disease risks to the animals and their human handlers, he said.
A press release from the Humane Society said its workers “found large numbers of dogs and cats living in filthy, cramped pens and crates.” Many animals were housed for long periods of time in unsafe, unsanitary enclosures, the release continued, and some “were suffering from skin and parasite infections.”
The search warrant was based on a charge of animal cruelty, but Batterman said he was unlikely to press charges.
“From my vantage point, the rescue of the animals was the crux of the matter,” he said. “I don’t anticipate filing charges at this point.”
He said the dogs and cats were being moved to the county fairgrounds Tuesday. After all the animals have had veterinary checks and received needed medical treatment, the Humane Society said, it will transport them in a 75-foot “mobile sheltering vehicle” to rescue groups that will put them up for adoption.
Crow said she and five or six other volunteers opened the shelter five years ago and have adopted out nearly 500 dogs and cats since then. It has always been difficult to raise money, Crow said, which was one reason the building that houses the dogs was never completed.
“The population of animals became pretty overwhelming,” she said. “We couldn’t become totally sanitized. We did the best we could with what we had.”
After the inspection a month ago, Crow said, she was under the impression that Wendy Hergenraeder, the state director for the Humane Society, would get back to her with suggestions for improving the shelter.
“I never heard from her until they raided my property yesterday,” she said.
Crow said authorities searched the shelter as well as her residence and her office, located in a second-hand store in downtown Baker, which she said she runs to help support the shelter. She said as many as 25 people were at the shelter Tuesday.
Crow said she agreed to give the county custody of the animals after she was told that no animal-cruelty charges would be filed if she did so. Later Monday, she said, she was asked to sign another document, agreeing that she wouldn’t have any contact with animals for two years.
She said she refused to sign that because she thought the animals were being seized in order to give her time to make improvements at the shelter.
Without the shelter, Crow said, Fallon County has no other resources for dealing with stray and abandoned pets. In the past, she said, city police officers routinely shot stray dogs and cats and tossed them in the garbage.
“We had animals being shot in the head every day because there’s no place for them,” she said.