COLUMBIA — Police filed 100 additional counts of cruelty to animals Monday against an Adair County man who kept hundreds of dogs and cats, many underfed and with mange or breathing problems, authorities said.
David F. Howery, 50, now faces a total of 295 misdemeanor charges of second-degree cruelty to animals, one of the largest such cases within memory in the area. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Monday.
One condition of Howery's bond is that he not possess or care for any animals while the case is pending.
Also Monday, District Judge Michael Loy signed an order allowing the Green River Animal Shelter to start releasing the dogs to other shelters and rescue organizations. The Green River shelter, which took the animals when they were seized from Howery, hadn't been allowed to do that earlier because the animals were the subjects of a criminal case.
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With the help of volunteers and donated food and materials, the shelter had been busy since Friday feeding and cleaning up after the crush of animals. It was filled to more than four times its capacity.
"Myself and my staff, we could not have coped with this" without help, said Jeff Thomas, director of the Green River shelter.
Shelters from several other counties and rescue organizations began moving animals out of the Green River facility Monday afternoon.
Thomas said he hoped to have all of the dogs seized from Howery moved by Saturday. The shelter will require a top-to-bottom cleaning before it can resume taking animals from its three-county area because the dogs in the case had health problems. A crew of volunteers from the Toyota plant in Georgetown is due in to help scrub down the facility Saturday, Thomas said.
In a short interview, Howery declined to comment on the charges against him or to say much about the operation of his facility, though he did want to talk about the problem of too many unwanted pets in Kentucky.
There is a need for more recognition of the overpopulation of dogs and cats, as well as more education on spaying and neutering pets, Howery said.
"If this is what it takes to get the message out, then so be it."
Dead dogs and goats
Howery operated Clean Slate Animal Rescue in the former Sparksville Elementary School in rural Adair County. Land records show he bought the building on eBay in April 2007 for $125,000.
Howery moved the rescue operation from Oregon, bringing 65 animals across the country with him in an old bus, according to the Clean Slate Web site.
In Oregon it was easy to place rescued animals up for adoption, but it was another matter in the "wilds" of Kentucky, where the situation was "dire" because of overpopulation, unchecked breeding for cash and a view that animals are disposable, the site said.
Howery told the Herald-Leader that his goal was to help animals. He worked with rescue groups to place unwanted animals, some of which were dumped at the shelter, he said.
"If you can help just one thing — person, animal — you've made a difference," he said. "What we try to do is make a difference."
Howery, who lives in the school with his father, said he got donations to run Clean Slate but also paid for operations himself.
Jimmy Harmon, the animal control officer for Adair County, said Howery loves animals.
"He was really trying to do a good thing, I think," Harmon said. "He just got in over his head. He just had the school building full."
Whatever Howery's intent, a lot of dogs and cats weren't getting good care at Clean Slate, authorities in Adair County said.
Many of the animals taken from Howery had health problems and fought over food because they'd been under fed, said Thomas, director of the Green River shelter.
Rescue groups such as Clean Slate can take dogs and cats from publicly operated shelters so they won't be euthanized, caring for them longer than a shelter could while trying to find them homes.
In fact, Thomas said, Howery had taken animals from a number of shelters in Kentucky, including 75 to 100 from the Green River shelter in the last two years, as well as shelters in Tennessee.
Howery would come to the shelter and point out dogs he said he could place in good homes, Thomas said.
It was 'very bad'
But when authorities got a warrant and searched the old Sparksville school Friday, they found close to 350 animals and birds, according to a list filed in the case.
That included 240 dogs, 31 cats, 13 goats, 53 chickens, two donkeys, three potbellied pigs and three chinchillas, according to the list.
The investigation began after someone who had adopted a dog at Clean Slate called the sheriff's office with concerns about the conditions at the school, according to Bruce McCloud, chief sheriff's deputy in Adair County.
The facility was filthy, with feces everywhere; there were about 25 dead dogs in cages or piled behind the building, and six dead goats in the same room with 10 live ones, McCloud said in a complaint.
"Very bad conditions," was the terse description in the complaint.
Authorities dressed in hazardous-materials gear to go into the building because they didn't know what they would encounter, McCloud said.
It took 13 hours to move out all the animals, Harmon said.
Some went to a farm. All the dogs and cats went to the Green River shelter, which made room by shipping all its animals to the shelter in Bowling Green.
Thomas said 75 or more rescue groups from around the country and Canada have applied to take the dogs seized in the case.
Tracy Moser, who works with a rescue group in Bowling Green called RePets, was busy Monday verifying that the groups were legitimate and could care for the animals, while Deana Wehr, rescue transport office for the Bowling Green-Warren County Humane Society, was trying to find groups to take animals.
Wehr said the case involved more animals than she'd seen in Kentucky in eight years.
"I've never seen 300 come in at one time before," she said.
On Monday the shelter was a swarm of activity, as it had been all weekend. Veterinarians tended to animals, while staff members and volunteers distributed food and washed down the runs amid the yelping, barking and howling of more than 200 dogs.
"Where are we going with this?" volunteer Lois Cunningham said as she and Angie Smith, another volunteer, slid a 32-gallon tub of dog food through the facility.
"I don't know. We're just going," Smith said.
Later, having found the dogs they were to feed, Cunningham said news of the animals' conditions had probably upset a lot of people.
"How could anybody do that?" she said.