BUCKHANNON – Upshur County officials are evaluating new rules and regulations to help the Lewis-Upshur Animal Control Facility in case court cases involving the seizure of a large number of animals.
Eighty dogs were handed over to the Lewis-Upshur Animal Control Facility in October 2022, and LUAC could not adopt them out to homes or send them to no-kill rescue facilities because they must be held in county custody during an ongoing animal cruelty case.
That case involved Denise Clark, 61, and Rebecca Clark, 41, both of Rock Cave, who were arrested on Oct. 6, 2022, for allegedly failing to register a kennel and for animal cruelty, both misdemeanors.
Upshur County Sheriff’s deputies and Upshur County Animal Control/Humane Officer John Slaughter seized approximately 80 dogs being kept in “deplorable conditions” inside a single-wide trailer, according to a press release issued by the sheriff’s office.
In an interview this week, LUAC Director Jan Cochran said the facility housed the dogs until April 2023, when Clark could no longer pay the fees to maintain ownership of them while they were in county custody.
“I was off that day, and they called me and said, ‘We need your help,’” Cochran recalled. “We took pictures of all the dogs; we were keeping track of their weight, and then within about two weeks, Denise went to the magistrate, and she paid her bond to hold the dogs because she said she was innocent.”
When the county seizes animals during a criminal investigation, the owner of the animals must pay a bond to maintain ownership of them. In addition to the bond, there is a $10-a-day fee per animal for the owner to retain custody, which is billed to the person arrested on a monthly basis.
“Once she did that (paid the bond), we started putting the animals in foster homes because we don’t have the room to house 80 dogs here,” Cochran added.
All the foster homes were in Upshur or Lewis County, so the animal control officer or LUAC employees had easy access to the dogs.
“Some people fostered with the intent to adopt when the animals became available, so we went ahead and asked them to put down a deposit if they were interested in adopting, so we knew they were serious,” Cochran said. “That way, we would know which dogs were left and which ones would still need a home afterward, so everybody put a $20 deposit down on the animals.”
Thirty-one people put down a deposit and fostered some of the dogs with the intent to adopt.
During a Dec. 13 hearing in the animal cruelty case, Cochran testified that 18 of the seized dogs still resided at LUAC, while the rest had been placed in foster homes. The 80 dogs consisted of French bulldogs, Boston terriers, Frenchtons, two Yorkshire terriers and one pug.
Soon after the 80 dogs arrived in October, two more court cases brought dogs to LUAC, causing an overflow of animals.
“We had to send 13 of the dogs to a boarding facility because we needed the space; we’re not set up to house more than 32 dogs,” Cochran said. “Once we sent those dogs to the boarding facility, Denise would have had to continue paying that extra boarding fee [to maintain custody of the dogs].”
The price to house animals at a secondary boarding facility would be added on to the monthly fee. If the fee is not paid every month, LUAC takes ownership and can adopt them out to homes or send them to rescues.
“If we get any more big cases like this, the plan is to board them,” Cochran said. “They’ll stay here until whoever goes to their first hearing and puts up a bond, but those bonds are going to reflect the cost [of the county having to] board, as long as the boarding facility has room and can take them.”
“They usually have the space that allows them to take in large numbers and have set a rate their company is comfortable charging us,” Cochran said. “The county is comfortable with saying, ‘Hey, this is what you’re going to pay if you want to keep your animals’ because it’s not cheap to board.”
Cochran said the county is also looking at potentially providing fosters with a stipend while animals are in their care.
“The county is looking into giving fosters so much a month to cover food and other things like puppy pads because all the vet fees are still ours,” Cochran said. “That is something they are considering doing, which I think is great.”
“The silver lining of the case is that it will likely spur changes in how the county handles large seizures of neglected or abused animals,” she said. “I think this case helped open up the eyes of everybody that we needed some new policies in place because what do we do if we get all these animals again?”
All of the dogs who were seized from the Clarks have either been adopted or taken in by animal rescues.
“It’s wonderful seeing these dogs actually living a good life because they stunk so bad when they came in here, they were so sticky, and they had so much food aggression,” Cochran said. During a Sept. 6, 2023, pretrial hearing in Upshur County Magistrate Court, Denise Clark’s attorney made a motion to continue the matter so that Clark could obtain an evaluation as required by West Virginia Code to be considered for probation.