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Despite a deal with the Commonwealth’s Attorney, Terri L. Smith will not be taking back ownership of the two dogs and two horses she’d asked for in exchange for a guilty plea to one count of second-degree cruelty to animals.
Smith, 51, of Campbellsburg, originally was charged with 218 counts of second-degree cruelty, a Class A misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to a year in jail, after Henry County Animal Control and law enforcement officials confiscated 240 animals – including more than 100 dogs, nine horses, 54 rabbits and several cats and dozens of smaller animals, from her property. The raid occurred Dec. 12 raid at the Allyson Lane property she shared with her husband, Kenneth Smith, 71.
Kenneth Smith, who faced similar charges, committed suicide on the property shortly after posting bond just days after his arrest.
On March 19, Terri Smith waived her right to a jury trial and agreed to plead guilty to one count of second-degree cruelty in exchange for the return of four specific animals that had been removed.
During Smith’s sentencing on Monday, April 16, Judge Diana E. Wheeler accepted Attorney Virginia Harrod’s recommendation that Smith serve 60 days of a 365-day jail sentence, with the balance of the jail time to be conditionally discharged for two years. That means Smith must not violate any of the court’s conditions or face serving the full year behind bars. She will get credit for five days already served.
Wheeler also accepted the commonwealth’s recommendation that Smith pay $9,467.17 in restitution to Henry County Animal Control for veterinary and other costs associated with caring for the seized animals.
Wheeler, however, declined Harrod’s recommendation to return to Smith two dogs – one a female Springer spaniel that Smith said was chosen for her by her deceased mother – and two horses, one of which is a pregnant female.
“This is an unusual sentencing for me, because generally I have victims that can speak,” and the animals taken from Smith’s property “can’t speak for themselves,” Wheeler said to Smith before pronouncing the sentence.
Wheeler said that while 217 of the charges were merged into one count, she could not ignore what she called the “totality” of the case.
“Based upon the evidence presented to me and the fact that I can’t begin to take light of the numerous counts merged” and Smith’s own admission to the court that she had been “overwhelmed” by the number of animals she had on her property, Wheeler denied that portion of the commonwealth’s recommendations.
“I have concerns. ... You have a huge financial situation to contend with, and taking care of animals is not cheap,” Wheeler told Smith. “Based upon the medical issues you are dealing with, and the mental situation of dealing with the loss of your husband and animals, and based upon evidence presented to me, and the fact that I can’t take light of the numerous counts [of cruelty] merged, I am not going to accept the recommendation.”
Wheeler told Smith that, after her two years’ conditional discharge and, perhaps after receiving training in the proper care of animals, Smith may, legally, be able to have another pet in the future.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate at this time,” Wheeler said.
Emotional testimony from both sides
Wheeler’s decision followed emotional testimony from people speaking up for Smith and from people who have been caring for the animals since the December raid.
Two friends, Tonya Mason and Randy Ricketts, and Terri Smith’s brother, Franklin Lee, testified to the judge that Smith is an animal lover who’s inability to say no to helping animals in need resulted in an overwhelming situation.
Mason told the judge that Smith had cleaned up the trailer and outbuildings on the Allyson Lane property where she and her husband had lived and kept the animals, and was preparing to care for the four animals she wanted back.
“Losing her husband and most of her animals, I think she’s been through enough. I’m surprised she’s still here,” Mason said, explaining to the judge that Smith has been suffering from unspecified medical issues in the past few months. Mason insisted that, despite those health issues, Smith would be capable of taking care of the four animals she wanted back. “That’s hardly anything to take care of” compared to the 130-plus dogs and other animals that were among the 240 creatures removed from the property.
Lee stated that his sister, basically, became overwhelmed because she had rescued the dogs that were on her property. He said she simply couldn’t say no to animals in need and that many of the dogs and horses on her property came to her from people who could not or would not care for the animals themselves.
“I helped her at her booth at the flea market [where Smith sold animals],” he said. “She goes out of her way to make sure homeless pets are given homes. She placed way more animals than she ever had on her property.”
He testified that Smith had worked for veterinarians “for most of her adult life” and knows how to care for animals, and blamed their apparent lack of proper care at the time of the raid on a tenant who allegedly had agreed to care for the animals in exchange for a place to live.
“The care was part of the rent and was not provided,” he said.
Mason, Ricketts and Lee all stated they would be willing and able to help Smith care for her animals, if she got them back.
Fighting back tears, however, Jodie Judy of Henry County, pleaded with Wheeler not to return any animals to Smith, particularly the Springer spaniel that her family has been fostering since two days after the raid.
The dog, named “Moto” by their three young sons, “has become our life. She simply makes our life complete,” Judy said, adding that the dog is completely devoted to her husband, Steve, and that the family has paid for the dog’s care almost since the beginning.
The Judys also are fostering a Yorkshire terrier taken from Smith, which was not included in the plea deal.
Moto is “an awesome dog. I ask the court, please don’t take this dog from our home. I have not asked for one cent from the [Henry County] shelter. We’re not asking for anything; we’re just asking to keep this dog,” Judy said.
Jerri Scott, a dispatcher with the Kentucky State Police and neighbor of the Smiths, told Wheeler she was at the scene during the raid. “It was a nightmare,” she said, describing the overpowering smell in the buildings the dogs were kept in. “They were crammed in cages, on top of each other, and several were in crates together. ... My concern is for the animals. I can’t picture anyone taking them out of the conditions the were in ... putting them into loving homes, then giving them back to her.”
Eight members of Carroll County Animal Support in Carrollton, one of the many nonprofit groups that have taken Smith’s animals into foster care, attended the sentencing and two testified, seeking to prevent Smith from getting any animals back.
CCAS member Sherry Stamper told Wheeler that the dog she is fostering, which she named Zoe, is a female bull mastiff that weighed about 40 pounds in December and now weighs 85 pounds – the low end of the breed’s normal weight range.
Stamper said the dog was covered with a yeast infection that also had gotten into its ears, rendering it temporarily deaf. After months of treatment, Zoe is now recovering but still needs medical treatment for a prolapsed uterus.
While Zoe is not one of the dogs Smith requested, Stamper said: “I would prefer [Zoe] be euthanized than go back to [Smith].”
Attorney George Carter, the Louisville lawyer representing Smith, told Wheeler that the dog had been in worse condition when his client took her in back in May 2011.
CCAS Executive Director Tammie Crawford, who is fostering seven of Smith’s dogs, told Wheeler that she is a professional dog groomer and is a former breeder, and has been rescuing dogs from Carroll County’s high-kill shelter since co-founding the animal welfare group in 2003.
“In my opinion, those dogs were there to make money. I rescue. I don’t get paid for it,” Crawford said. “In my opinion, this was not a rescue [operation]. We, as a rescue, don’t set up in a flea market [to sell animals]. We require home visits, adoption applications, veterinary care, and we make sure our dogs are altered before they leave [for their adoptive homes]. None of these dogs were altered, and some were pregnant.”
Suzanne Schulte, who works with the Oldham County Humane Society and said she is nearly finished earning a degree as a veterinary technician, told Wheeler that she has been caring for nine cats taken from the property during the raid.
The animals, all of which lived outside on the property, have all been treated for severe upper-respiratory infections and coccidia, a parasite that attacks the intestinal system and causes diarrhea, she said. “In my medical opinion, I don’t think she should get any animals back.”
Following her sentencing, Smith, who had sobbed when told she could not have her animals back, thanked the Judys for taking such good care of the spaniel. Leaning over the rail in the courtroom to speak to the couple, she said, “I’m not trying to take the dog away from you guys. I’m just trying to get a piece of my life back. ... That dog means the world to me. That animal was my life.”
Dan Flinkfelt, animal control officer for Henry and Trimble counties, was pleased that Smith would not have any animals back.
“Today, we took a stand here in Henry County against animal cruelty,” he said, standing outside the Henry County courthouse in New Castle. “We spoke up for the voiceless, and we were able to win and prove our case.”
Flinkfelt said he would be contacting all of the foster homes and rescues caring for the animals involved in the case “to make arrangements to get them all adopted out.”
He thanked the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, the Kentucky State Police, his own staff and “the hundreds of volunteers and thousands of donors” who had helped the shelter manage the overwhelming number of animals after they were seized. “I can’t name them all, but I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Smith seeking home incarceration
Smith’s next court appearance was set for May 14.
Smith is requesting to serve her time under home incarceration rather than at Carroll County Regional Detention Center, claiming that her health issues are too severe and her life would be at risk if she were jailed. Home incarceration would mean she would be free to live on her property, but would be forced to wear an ankle bracelet that would ensure she would not leave the property without authorization.
Wheeler told Smith to bring a letter from her physician stating that her health is too poor to serve time in jail and reminded her that, if her request is approved, Smith would be confined to her home for twice as long – 120 days, rather than the 60 days she would spend in jail.