UPDATE 10:20 a.m. :
A Ballantine dog breeder accused of neglecting hundreds of animals pleaded not guilty to felony charges this morning in District Court.
Linda Kapsa appeared for arraignment before Judge Gregory Todd on two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty, two misdemeanor counts of having a dog at large and two misdemeanor counts of failing to provide rabies information.
Todd followed a recommendation from Deputy County Attorney Ingrid Rosenquist to allow Kapsa to remain free without bond pending trial. The case has been assigned to Judge Susan Watters, and a trial date will be set later.
Prosecutors filed the charges directly into District Court on Monday. Kapsa’s court appearance today was her first in the case, which began last month when authorities twice served search warrants at her property on South 14th Road, eventually seizing nearly 200 dogs and other animals.
Kapsa was represented at the hearing by Public Defender Richard Phillips, but it remained unclear if Kapsa will hire a private attorney to represent her. Kapsa told a Gazette reporter last week that she was represented by Billings attorney Liz Honaker, who has represented Kapsa in a previous civil matter.
Honaker, president of the board of the Yellowstone Valley Animal Shelter, said recently she would not be representing Kapsa in the criminal case.
The felony charge carries a maximum penalty to two years in prison and a $2,500 fine. The misdemeanor charges each carry a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine.
Todd ordered Kapsa to have no contact with any witnesses in the case or the animals seized from her property. Todd made an exception to the no-contact order for Kapsa’s son and daughter.
Sheriff’s deputies accompanied by veterinarians and animal welfare representatives seized 189 dogs from Kapsa’s Shady Lane Kennels following searches of the property Dec. 11 and Dec. 30. Prosecutors allege that the dogs were kept in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions, and numerous dead animals were found at the property.
Most of the seized animals are being housed and care for at the MetraPark grounds. They are considered evidence until the case is resolved, which means efforts to find permanent homes for dogs will be delayed.
Breeder of seized dogs faces 6 charges | Court documents detail extreme conditions found by authorities
Court records filed Monday charging a Ballantine woman with aggravated animal cruelty and other offenses give a detailed description of the filth, death and sickness found at the property by authorities who eventually seized hundreds of dogs.
The stench of feces and urine at Linda Kapsa's property was so bad, prosecutors said, that sheriff's deputies and others involved in two search-and-seizure actions last month had to wear face masks. Numerous dead dogs were found at the property, including four puppies found frozen together and the skeletal remains of an animal that could not be identified.
One dog had a broken leg bone and chewed its own flesh to the tip of the broken bone, court records state. A veterinarian said the bone appeared to have also been eaten by moths. The leg had to be amputated.
The veterinarian who treated the dog said "he had not seen a worse case of abuse and neglect," court records state.
The details of what authorities said they found at Kapsa's Shady Lane Kennels, on South 14th Road, are included in a 10-page charging affidavit.
Prosecutors charged Kapsa with two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty, two misdemeanor counts of having a dog at large and two misdemeanor counts of failing to provide rabies information.
The felony charge carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a $2,500 fine. The misdemeanor charges carry a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $500 fine.
Kapsa has not been arrested and is expected to appear voluntarily for arraignment in District Court this week. She is likely to be represented by a public defender, prosecutors said.
Authorities twice last month served search warrants at Kapsa's property, where she kept hundreds of dogs and other animals. Kapsa recently said that she bred and sold English shepherds and pugs on her property for more than 40 years.
As a result of the search warrants, authorities seized 189 dogs, 27 chickens, 10 cockatiels and one cat. Most of the animals are being housed and treated at the MetraPark grounds. The seizure is believed to be the largest of its kind in state history.
Sheriff's deputies arrived at Kapsa's property with search warrants Dec. 11 and again Dec. 30. The warrants were issued after the county received complaints, including from one person who went to the property planning to buy a dog from Kapsa.
During the first search, authorities said they were met by about 40 to 60 dogs running loose. Many of the dogs were aggressive, and one deputy was bitten twice.
Kapsa was present and told deputies to stay behind her and the dogs would not bother them, "unless she told them to," court records state. Kapsa said her dogs were protective and loyal, and that it was none of the officers' business what she did with them.
Officers estimated that about 200 dogs were on the property. Trash was scattered around the property, and the accumulation of feces was so thick that it appeared to be mud, court records state. Officials were overwhelmed by the smell and most "wore masks over their mouths to be able to breath through the stench."
Several dead dogs were found, and a few dogs were chained with no access to water. Many of the dogs had hair matted with feces, and others appeared sick and malnourished, court records state. One dog may have been poisoned from eating rodent bait.
The floor of Kapsa's residence was covered in dog feces and trash, court records state, and authorities found numerous dogs in the trailer house, including two dead puppies. A veterinarian said the ammonia smell in the trailer burned his eyes and throat.
Six dead puppies and other dead dogs were found in another trailer on the property. One dog appeared to be sleeping standing up in several inches of feces and urine, court records state. It was during the first visit that authorities found the dog with the infected leg.
On the first search, authorities seized 10 dogs and two kittens in need of immediate care. The also removed the remains of 13 dogs.
Conditions had not changed when authorities returned Dec. 30, authorities said. But many dogs had been moved, including an estimated 30 pugs that were noted during the first search. Kapsa later said that the dogs were given good homes. A small herd of goats was also missing.
Prosecutors said investigators later determined that about 18 pugs and 21 English shepherds had been given to Kapsa's daughter, a veterinarian in North Carolina. The woman has since provided proof of vaccination for the dogs and is moving them to North Carolina for adoption, court records state.
During the second search, officials found several more dead dogs, including one next to Kapsa's bed. Four puppies were found huddled together and frozen in an enclosure. Six dead dogs were found on a manure pile, and two more were found underneath a trailer.