The operator of an animal sanctuary in Elliott County who has agitated for animal shelters across the state failed to properly care for scores of dogs and cats, Kentucky State Police charged.
Police charged Randy Skaggs, 67, with 179 counts of second-degree cruelty to animals and 179 counts of not vaccinating dogs against rabies, according to a news release issued Thursday.
The charges are misdemeanors.
Skaggs told the Herald-Leader he had 139 dogs and 40 cats at his sanctuary at Webbville, which has operated since 1990 under a non-profit called the Trixie Foundation.
It is named for one of Skaggs’ dogs who died. The facility does not euthanize animals and does not adopt them out.
Skaggs strongly denied mistreating animals. He said a few dogs had mange, but most of the animals were “fat and healthy.”
He said authorities did not take the animals after arresting him. There were others at the sanctuary to look after them, he said.
Skaggs said he thinks the charges are retaliation for his efforts to push officials to comply with animal-control standards and provide adequate local shelters.
“We’ve been made the sacrificial lamb for Kentucky’s failure to invest in animal welfare,” Skaggs said Thursday. “Paybacks are hell.”
In 2000, Skaggs took part in a lawsuit alleging that dozens of counties didn’t have required animal control officers or shelters, and that some counties had used inhumane methods to euthanize dogs.
He has peppered officials across the state with requests for public records to check county spending on animal control and shelters.
He said in a 2005 interview that some local officials likely “think I’m an S.O.B.” But Skaggs said his efforts have led to improvements in Kentucky.
A state police spokesman said he could not provide information Thursday on how Skaggs allegedly mistreated animals.
The Elliott County attorney and animal-control officer were not available for comment.
The conditions that constitute second-degree animal cruelty include intentionally subjecting an animal to “cruel or injurious mistreatment” through abandonment; failing to provide adequate food, water, space or health care; or subjecting an animal to “cruel neglect.”
Skaggs said he has animals vaccinated for rabies when they come to the shelter, as well as for other diseases, but acknowledged he did not not follow up with annual rabies shots.
However, he said he gets veterinary care for animals when needed.
Kathryn Callahan, director of the Humane Society of the U.S. in Kentucky, said experts from the society went to Skagg’s facility several years ago to check on it.
The conditions were not as high as the society would like, but the team saw nothing that constituted animal cruelty, Callahan said.
A Lexington Humane Society official expressed admiration for Skaggs’ efforts in a 1999 Herald-Leader profile, saying Skaggs tried hard to do the right thing for animals.
But Julia Sharp, who operates an animal-rescue service called TLC Rescue in Rowan County, alleged that the conditions at Skaggs’ facility are “abysmal.”
She said problems include improper flea and tick control, inadequate health care and a lack of space. Skaggs has nearly 400 acres but the dogs and cats are confined to just a few acres, Sharp said, calling it a “mud pit.”
Animals sometimes suffer as they are dying because Skaggs does not believe in euthanizing them, Sharp said.
Sharp said she received her information from several former Trixie Foundation workers and has reviewed its tax returns.
Skaggs’ website gives a much different description — a sanctuary “hidden safely away from the outside, troubled world, nestled beside a bubbling brook in a secluded valley surrounded by the wooded, hilly forests of eastern Appalachian Kentucky” that has offered shelter and love to “hundreds and hundreds of discarded, frightened animals.”
The foundation operates on donations.
Skaggs said in a 1999 story that he left a job at the Toyota plant in Georgetown to devote himself full-time to saving animals.
It has not been a lucrative life at times; when the newspaper profiled Skaggs in 1999, the facility had no running water and no indoor plumbing, and Skaggs slept on a plywood ledge in a tiny building.
The animals slept wherever they wanted inside a fenced-in two acres, the story said.
Skaggs said he still has little money, but is devoted to caring for animals.
“There’s people that live in Third World nations that live better than I do,” he said. “I do it because I care.”