Nineteen dogs, along with cats and chickens, were recently returned to their owners after they were charged with felony animal abuse.
Three months ago, the Delaware County sheriff department in Oklahoma removed nearly 40 dogs and cats and hundreds of chickens from a home owned by Claire and Chris White after it was reported they were being abused.
Authorities from the area said it was one of the worst case of animal abuse and neglect they’ve seen, according to News on 6.
The animals were in various states of health with many reportedly having been neglected and denied food, water, shelter and veterinary care for a prolonged period.
“The sheer number of animals was nearly overwhelming,” says Dana Gray of Oklahoma Animal for Alliance, the animal welfare organization that assisted in this situation. “They had no clean water – we only saw a couple of water bowls with clumps of green algae. Cages were covered in feces. The smell was awful. There was no evidence of food other than a few strewn kernels of deer corn in some chicken coops.”
Gray added one dog had a large mammary tumor, many animals didn’t have hair, some tested positive for heartworm and others had broken teeth, presumably from eating rocks to help fend off hunger.
“All of the animals were in distress. Three older dogs with the most severely poor health conditions were chained a hundred or so yards away from the house; we have no idea why,” she says. “There was trash everywhere. The house had to be fumigated.”
According to the Oklahoma Animal for Alliance and sheriff’s office, Chris White agreed to surrender the animals by signing them over to animal welfare organizations. (The couple’s five children were also taken away but returned a few days after.)
During the removal of the animals, a state-appointed veterinarian was on site to examine them. Unfortunately, three had to be euthanized at the scene and nine more in the following days.
Since then, the Oklahoma Animal for Alliance and other animal welfare organizations have taken care of the animals, with the nonprofits spending more than $30,000 to care for them.
While the next date for the case is Jan. 27, the judge presiding over it, Delaware County Judge Alicia Littlefield, recently shocked animal welfare groups by ruling that the Whites could get the animals back while state charges were pending. (The Whites each still face 10 state felony counts of animal cruelty.)
Gray can’t comprehend the decision.
“Her decision was made behind closed doors in her chambers without court records. No details have been made public,” she says. “What we do know is that the state forfeiture law in Oklahoma does not allow the return of animal victims to their alleged abusers until the defendants have been found not guilty in a court of law. Her ruling does not comply with the state forfeiture law.”
The Oklahoma Forfeiture Law requires three things to happen before dogs are returned to alleged abusers: a bond hearing, defendants post bond and defendants found not guilty. Because the Whites signed over surrender forms giving up ownership, the first two requirements didn’t happen, according to Gray, and the third one is yet to happen.
But the lawyer for the Whites, Winston Connor, says his clients’ Constitutional rights were violated. According to Connor, the sheriff department botched the case by making a number of mistakes — discussing two major ones with This Dog’s Life. First, the sheriff’s office apparently lied to a judge to get the initial search warrant, stating the Whites did not take their dogs to the vet. But Connor tells us the body cam worn by the officer shows the Whites did not state this. “It was a 100 percent lie,” Connor tells us of the initial reason for the warrant.
Secondly, the Whites were read the Meridian warning and chose to remain silent and asked for an attorney. Yet, the sheriff office then asked Chris White to sign over the animals. And, according to Connor, Chris was told that the turning over the animals was only for the time he was in jail, not permanently. Also, Claire White never signed paperwork to remove the animals. He adds that his clients’ “love for the animals is immense.”
Connor also explains that the proper paperwork to put the Oklahoma Forfeiture Law into motion was not done in the mandated time frame.
“If sheriff’s office had done their job correctly, the worst case scenario would have been those who care about animals to provide some advice, assistance and discuss alternatives” with his clients, Connor says.
However, Gray says there is no evidence to support either of Connor’s claims about the Miranda warning being violated or the warrant being illegally obtained.
“The state forfeiture law clearly outlines the process for seized and surrendered animals; that law has not been followed,” she says. “We have no idea why the judge apparently declined to follow state law.”
Because of the decision, an online petition asking for the district attorney to appeal the judge’s ruling was launched.. To date, nearly 130,000 have signed it.
Connor says he has welcomed a sit down with Oklahoma Animal for Alliance, while the nonprofit has also reached out to the attorney and the Whites to see if they could take the animals permanently.
“We are hopeful that the Whites will carefully consider this offer,” says Gray. “Caring for 19 dogs and three cats would be an expensive and time-consuming challenge for any family; the burden would be even greater on adults also trying to raise five children and prove to the courts that they are responsible pet owners.”