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Court rules on animal cruelty case

BUCKHANNON — The Upshur County Magistrate Court ruled in favor of the Upshur County Commission and Barbour County Commission Friday in an animal cruelty case that has cost nearly $35,000 to house animals first seized in April.

Denise Clark, 59, of Buckhannon, was arrested on 53 counts of animal cruelty and five counts of commercial dog-breeding operations, all misdemeanors. Magistrate Kay Hurst set a $100,000 personal recognizance bond at a May arraignment for the criminal case.

On Friday, Hurst presided over a civil hearing to decide what would happen to the animals and to discuss setting a civil bond for the expenses of housing the animals while waiting for the hearing.

This hearing was supposed to be set within 10 days of Clark’s arrest and the animals being seized.

However, Hurst said at the time of Clark’s arraignment, that Clark’s attorney Tom Dyer thought it didn’t have to happen that soon due to the arraignment.

“Since then, I have spoken with the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and they said, yes, we need to have the hearing,” she said.

Additionally, the Upshur County Commission filed a civil complaint on Sept. 23 regarding setting of a bond and Barbour County Commission filed a civil complaint Sept. 24 in setting of a bond.

Attorney Zack Dyer represented Clark while attorney Jamie O’Brien of Steptoe and Johnson represented the Upshur County Commission Friday.

During Friday’s hearing, both Upshur County animal control officer Jason Knicely and Cpl. Tyler Gordon testified about the condition of the residence and the outside areas where the animals were seized at 870 Abbott Road.

William Clark, 62, was arrested in March and has now been indicted in federal court for making a destructive device, possession of an unregistered firearm and unlawful possession of a firearm.

Knicely was asked by Gordon and the ATF to go with them to the residence in case of dogs running loose when the search warrant was served on March 10-11.

Knicely said the animals were in one room which he described as a small walk-in closet or nursery.

There were 13 Boston Terriers, three Yorkies and two birds in crates or cages.

The crates were stacked three or four high due to the size of the room and had anywhere from two to six dogs or puppies inside with no food or water.

“There were pee pads saturated and urine and feces all through the house,” Knicely said. “The back bedroom with the dog crates three to four high had dogs in them with no food or water.”

The bird cages were full of feces.

Knicely said the inside dogs and two birds were seized with a search warrant on April 20 and Clark was issued a warning for the conditions of the area the dogs were kept in outside.

Knicely returned to the Abbot Road residence on April 27 with another search warrant and Cpl. Tyler Gordon was there this time as well.

There, the officers seized eight Great Pyrenees dogs – four adults and four puppies, a tan dog, two goats, a grey goose, nine white geese, two pigs, 17 ducklings, one black and white Boston Terrier, two brown and white Boston Terriers and five brown and white Jack Russell terriers.

The tan dog was tied to a tree on the outside of the house.

The outside pens had tarps that had been tore up. Feces was in all the cages.

Knicely testified that some of the animals looked healthy and some looked sick. Clark had told the officers one of the dogs had cancer.

He said there was nothing to protect the animals from heat or cold outside and in April it was still cold.

Knicely stated that three or four pigs had been found dead across the road and there bones throughout the yard.

Gordon had body camera footage of the room from March where 16 dogs were kept which was viewed by Hurst during the hearing. The deputy said the room had no flooring.

“The entire house reeked of feces from the moment I stepped up to the door,” he said.

The deputy was back on April 27 to serve another search warrant to seize the rest of the animals after the inside dogs had been seized on April 20.

Gordon stated that the dog crates outside were still open to the weather and there were multiple dogs in a confined space.

“Some of the dogs being removed, it was apparent that some of them had never even been out of the cage,” Gordon said.

But Gordon stated the outside dogs were “pretty healthy looking and I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.”

Janella Cochran, supervisor of animal services at the Lewis-Upshur Animal Control Facility, testified that of the dogs received from the April 20 search warrant, two were “a little skinny.”

One appeared to be very active though and had put on a pound or two since coming under care of the animal control facility.

The other was the one Clark said had cancer.

“It did take us a while to get some weight on her, but she is as normal as the other Boston Terriers,” Cochran said. “I haven’t found any lumps. She now looks great.”

The dogs received on April 27 “all looked good,” Cochran reported.

Cochran said Upshur County charges $5 a day board and Barbour County, which has been housing some of the dogs, charges $10.

She has provided figures to the commission for the boarding as well as the vetting.

Cochran also said that all the vet records for the dogs were in Denise Clark’s name including the Great Pyrenees which Clark had said belonged to her ex-husband, William.

Denise testified that all the animals were in her name so she could keep track of their vet appointments.

Clark also testified that she had owned dogs for 40 years or more and showed yorkies beginning when she was 11.

Approximately 20 of the dogs belonged to Clark, she noted. Clark testified via phone.

She said there were three or four litters of puppies at the time of the March 10 search warrant.

“My dogs have free run of wherever I am,” she said.

But on March 10, she was told by the officers arriving to secure them.

She also said she had “free feeding” meaning the dogs were allowed to have food whenever they wanted and there were bowls throughout the house.

The house was messy due to remodeling started by her ex-husband but Clark said she cleaned.

She said she had even helped animal control by taking care of a dog in 2017 or 2018.

Clark told the court that she called her dogs “her kids.”

Despite O’Brien stating her name was on deeds in the courthouse as having ownership in the property, Clark continued to say that she did not own the property.

She said she and William were legally divorced five or six years ago.

Clark said she could not take care of the farm animals or the Pyrenees and agreed for Burr to take the farm animals.

Dyer introduced a letter from Clark’s vet which stated how she had brought animals in for care over the years.

In his closing statement, O’Brien asked the court to find that the animals seized have been abandoned or neglected and deprived of necessary care due to the “lack of credibility of Ms. Clark” and to institute a bond equivalent to the care of the animals.

Dyer told the court that the dogs were healthy.

“They are all doing fine now and they were all doing then,” he said. “While I applaud the efforts of animal control and sheriff’s department in trying to protect animals, these are animals that do not need to be protected. They are her children and they mean the world to her and she would never do anything to harm them.”

After taking under advisement for an hour, Hurst returned to the courtroom with her ruling.

“As a dog lover myself, I can understand Ms. Clark calling her dogs her kids,” Hurst said. “In this case, the dogs, or at least many of them, were for breeding purposes or for sale.”

“The court finds that the subject animals were neglected by placing too many in crates,” she said.

Hurst referenced the unsanitary conditions of the residence and that the animals were deprived of necessary substance.

Hurst awarded custody of the animals to the humane officer and ordered Clark to pay a bond of $16,947.18 for the Upshur County bill and $18,090 for the Barbour County bill. All of the animals have been returned to Upshur County from Barbour County.

If county care of the animals extends further, Clark will be required to post an additional bond.

Commission president Terry Cutright thanked O’Brien for taking the case with so little notice and the Barbour County Commission for helping with the animals.

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