Case Snapshot
Case ID: 15067
Classification: Neglect / Abandonment, Hoarding
Animal: dog (non pit-bull)
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Prosecutor(s): Ingrid Rosenquist
Defense(s): David Duke
Judge(s): Susan Watters

For more information about the Interactive Animal Cruelty Maps, see the map notes.

Tuesday, Dec 30, 2008

County: Yellowstone

Charges: Felony CTA
Disposition: Convicted

Defendant/Suspect: Linda Kapsa

Case Updates: 8 update(s) available

The Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office executed a second search warrant at Shady Lane Kennels in Ballantine this morning and is in the process of seizing almost 300 dogs and other animals owned by Linda Kapsa.

Officials with the Sheriff's Office and the Humane Society suspect that the animals were not receiving proper care.

A veterinarian assisting in the seizure said he saw dogs without food, water or adequate shelter. A team of veterinarians is examining the dogs at a temporary clinic at MetraPark, where the dogs will be housed.

The first warrant was issued Dec. 11, and, after a four-hour search, officials took 10 dogs that they thought needed immediate veterinary care and discovered 13 dead dogs on the property. At that time, investigators took photos and video footage of the animals, which, after review by the county attorney, prompted the second warrant.

No formal charges have been filed, but, after examination of the animals, the Yellowstone County Attorney's Office could decide to charge Kapsa with animal cruelty.

Case Updates

Linda Kapsa, the Ballantine woman serving a 20-year suspended sentence for aggravated animal cruelty, is asking a judge to reduce her sentence and allow her to keep more animals.

In a petition for post-conviction relief filed in August, Kapsa argues that her public defenders failed to properly represent her.

Kapsa also alleges that prosecutors violated a plea agreement by failing to make sure that volunteers who cared for her dogs would be given first choice at adoption.

Kapsa is represented in the petition by Billings attorney Elizabeth Honaker, who also represents two women who have filed civil lawsuits related to the adoption of Kapsa's dogs.

The most recent lawsuit filed by Penny Ronning and Kelly Dennehy alleges slander and libel against Heather Houlahan, a Pennsylvania dog trainer who worked on the Kapsa case for the National English Shepherd Rescue organization. The NESR organized the care of the dogs seized from Kapsa and their adoptions when the case was resolved.

The District Court lawsuit was filed by Ronning and Dennehy on Aug. 5. It seeks unspecified damages.

Houlahan said recently she had not been served with the lawsuit and could not comment.

The criminal case against Kapsa began in December 2008 when authorities seized more than 200 dogs from Kapsa's property. The dogs were temporarily sheltered at MetraPark.

Kapsa pleaded no contest to the felony charge in July 2009, and the next month Judge Susan Watters imposed the 20-year suspended sentence. The judge also restricted the number of animals Kapsa could keep to three dogs, 20 chickens, 10 goats and four horses.

A court-appointed attorney filed a notice of appeal on Kapsa's behalf with the Montana Supreme Court but later withdrew from the case, saying she could not find a legitimate issue for appeal.

The petition for post-conviction relief is filed with Watters, who presided over the criminal case. Watters has issued an order requiring prosecutors to respond to the petition. A hearing date has not been scheduled.

Watters has also issued an order shielding Kapsa's former public defenders, David Duke and Moira D'Alton, from disciplinary action or malpractice claims by responding to Kapsa's allegation.

In the petition, Kapsa says Duke and D'Alton failed to present evidence at the sentencing hearing that some of the injuries suffered by her dogs happened when the dogs were seized by county authorities.

Kapsa was later ordered to pay the veterinary bills for those injuries, the petition states, as well as for the treatment of dogs injured while in the county's care at MetraPark.

According to the petition, chickens seized from Kapsa were attacked by her dogs at MetraPark.

"Kapsa was actually charged with the veterinarian bills incurred to euthanize these chickens," the petition states.

Kapsa's public defenders also failed to challenge some information at the hearing, the petition alleges, including a recommendation from a probation officer regarding the number of animals Kapsa should be allowed to keep.

The judge then imposed a greater limitation on the number of animals Kapsa could keep than that proposed by prosecutors, the petition states.

The petition seeks to increase the number of animals Kapsa can have and reduce the term of her probationary sentence. It also seeks a court order requiring the county to "comply with the plea agreement ... so that all the volunteers who applied to adopt Kapsa dogs receive a mandatory preference of the dogs they cared for."

In two civil lawsuits filed in Yellowstone County in 2009 and 2010, Ronning and Dennehy allege they were not allowed to adopt two of Kapsa's dogs, named Joy and Love, despite their volunteer work and the plea agreement in Kapsa's criminal case.

The first lawsuit was dismissed last year by Judge Gregory Todd, who granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of the county and other defendants. The Montana Supreme Court later affirmed the ruling.

The second lawsuit remains pending before Judge Mary Jane Knisely. A trial has been set for Sept. 17, 2012.
Source: - Sep 12, 2011
Update posted on Sep 12, 2011 - 9:31PM 
A dog breeder near Billings has complied with a court order and removed all but a few animals from her property.

Volunteers removed a goat, four horses and more than a dozen dogs from Linda Kapsa’s place in Ballantine over the weekend. The animals were taken to foster homes.

A District Court judge ruled in August that Kapsa could have no more than three dogs, four horses, 20 chickens and 10 goats. The order came after Kapsa pleaded no contest to aggravated animal cruelty.

During two raids last year, county officials seized more than 200 dogs and some other animals from her 10-acre property.

Kapsa was given a 20-year suspended sentence.

Kapsa has maintained that she and the animals were mistreated by county officials.
Source: Great Falls Tribune - Oct 15, 2009
Update posted on Oct 24, 2009 - 12:40PM 
Two months after dog breeder Linda Kapsa was ordered to remove all but a few animals from her property east of Billings, she has done so, officials said on Wednesday.

Volunteers removed a goat, four horses and more than a dozen dogs from Kapsa's place in Ballantine over the weekend.

"She knew she needed help, and she allowed us to help," said Emily Reihing, one of the volunteers.

A District Court judge ruled in August that Kapsa could have no more than three dogs, four horses, 20 chickens and 10 goats. The order came after Kapsa pleaded no contest to aggravated animal cruelty.

During two raids last year, county officials seized more than 200 dogs and some other animals from her 10-acre property.

Kapsa was given a 20-year suspended sentence and ordered to pay $50 a month during that time to partially reimburse Yellowstone County for the $200,000 it spent caring for the seized dogs.

The judge also gave her 60 days from the date of her sentencing to remove all but the permitted number of animals from her property. A visit by Kapsa's probation officer Wednesday morning confirmed that she had followed the order.

"She is in compliance with the court," said Chris Evans, a probation and parole supervisor.

The horses, goat and dogs are in foster homes and could stay in them indefinitely, Reihing said. Kapsa wants the animals back, and she hopes an appeal will eventually allow that.

Kapsa has maintained that she and the animals were mistreated by county officials.

"If the county only would have let those kind of people help before," Kapsa said, referring to the volunteers who removed animals over the weekend. "But they wouldn't."

The volunteers were local animal advocates who reached out to Kapsa. They found the dogs and horses to be in good health, and there was plenty of food and water available for them, Reihing said.

In addition to collecting the extra animals, the volunteers fixed fences and performed other chores to make Kapsa's place more livable for her and her remaining pets.

"Linda Kapsa is not a demon," Reihing said. "She's not a monster. She's an old woman who was left alone. She did hoard, and I'm not defending that. But (when she needed help), nobody came."
Source: Billings Gazette - Oct 14, 2009
Update posted on Oct 24, 2009 - 6:38PM 
Linda Kapsa is out of the dog business.

Judge Susan Watters told the Ballantine woman that she can no longer breed dogs and must be under state supervision for the next two decades to ensure that she does not accumulate more animals than she can handle.

Watters told Kapsa that she could keep only three altered dogs, and she further reduced the number of chickens, goats and horses the 59-year-old woman can keep on her 10-acre property formerly known as Shady Lane Kennels.

The judge also ordered Kapsa to pay $50 a month in restitution for 20 years to partially reimburse the county for the cost of caring for the 200 dogs and other animals seized from her property in two raids in December.

Watters imposed the sentence at the conclusion of a three-hour hearing that included testimony from Kapsa and her civil attorney. Observers who filled the courtroom also heard two county officials provide the latest tally of the county's expenses since seizing Kapsa's animals, including about 200 dogs, dozens of chickens and several cats and birds.

Along with the three dogs, Kapsa will be allowed to keep only 20 chickens and 10 goats, Watters said. Kapsa had asked to keep 20 dogs and twice as many chickens and goats, which she said she uses for meat and milk for her and the dogs.

With only three dogs to feed, Watters said, Kapsa has no need for any more chickens and goats. Kapsa's only income is about $12,000 a year from Social Security benefits, the judge noted.

Watters also ordered that Kapsa sell four of her eight horses within 60 days, and she allowed Kapsa the same period to find an adoption agency or group willing to take the 20 or so English shepherds that escaped capture during the raids.

Kapsa must allow a state probation officer access to her property at any time to assess the number of animals there while she is under state supervision.

Kapsa was sentenced as a persistent felony offender to a 20-year suspended sentence to the state Department of Public Health and Human Resources. Kapsa has two prior felony convictions, and she was diagnosed recently as suffering from depression and personality disorders.

Watters said she crafted the sentence with the goal of preventing Kapsa from again accumulating more animals than she can properly care for while also allowing her access to mental-health services.

After the hearing, a prosecutor and a Humane Society official said they were satisfied with the sentence imposed in one of the state's largest animal cruelty cases.

"The total number of animals is still far, far too many," said Davie Pauli, regional director of the Human Society. "I can live with three dogs, but only under supervision."

Deputy County Attorney Ingrid Rosenquist said the case shows the need for a continued effort to revise the state's animal cruelty laws. Under current law, Kapsa faced a maximum prison sentence of two years for the felony conviction. An effort to pass an anti-hoarding bill failed during the last Legislature, she said.

Kapsa was escorted away from the public after the hearing and was not immediately available for comment. Her civil attorney, Liz Honaker, declined to comment outside the courthouse.

Kapsa testified during the hearing, telling the judge that she had spent her life raising animals for food and breeding dogs to sell. She asked the judge to allow her to keep 20 dogs, including two pair of unaltered dogs, so she could "preserve the bloodline" and give dogs to family members.

Kapsa also told the judge she should not have to pay any restitution or spend any time on probation.

"It's not like I've gone out and robbed and killed, you know?" Kapsa said. "I love my dogs."

Kapsa's court-appointed attorney, David Duke, asked the judge to impose a five-year suspended sentence. He said Kapsa should be allowed to keep up to 20 dogs, 40 goats, 20 chickens, eight horses, three cats and two cockatiels.

Duke also said Kapsa should not have to pay any restitution because county officials seized the animals when they knew that Kapsa's daughter, a veterinarian in North Carolina, had agreed to find new homes for most of Kapsa's dogs.

Yellowstone County Finance Director Scott Turner briefly testified that the county had spent a total of about $200,000 on food, shelter and veterinary care for Kapsa's animals since they were seized. The county received about $43,000 in cash donations, Turner said.

Sheriff's Lt. Mike Schieno testified that many volunteers dedicated hundreds of hours to caring for Kapsa's dogs after the seizure. If the county had paid the volunteers even minimum wage, he said, the total cost would have increased by about $300,000.

Rosenquist, the prosecutor, asked Watters to limit the dogs in Kapsa's care to no more than six altered dogs. Kapsa's perception of her ability to care for animals does not reflect the reality of the conditions at her property that authorities found last December, she said.

During the raids, authorities found at least two dozen dead dogs, including several puppies, Rosenquist said. Many of the living dogs were matted in feces, and food and water bowls were empty or frozen solid.

Rosenquist responded to Kapsa's testimony that her crime was not robbery or murder.

"Well, your honor, she robbed her dogs of a normal life and she killed some of them by neglecting them," the prosecutor said.


District Judge Susan Watters told Linda Kapsa today that she can no longer be in the dog business.

The judge sentenced Kapsa, a Ballantine dog breeder convicted of aggravated animal cruelty, to a suspended 20-year term with the state Department of Public Health and Human Services. Watters also limited Kapsa to keeping no more than three altered dogs on her 10-acre property.

Kapsa was also ordered to pay $50 a month in restitution for 20 years to partially reimburse the county for the cost of caring for the seized animals, which officials estimated was close to $200,000.

Watters further reduced the number of other animals Kapsa can keep on her property, saying mental health experts found Kapsa to have hoarding tendencies and a mental illness that impairs her ability to recognize when she is over-whelmed with the responsibility of animal care.

Kapsa will be allowed to keep 20 chickens and 10 goats, half the number contemplated in a plea agreement between Kapsa and the County Attorney's Office. Kapsa can also keep three altered cats and two cockatiels, and she must allow a probation officer access to her property at any time to assess the number of animals there while she is under state supervision.

Watters also said Kapsa has 60 days to sell four of her eight horses and turn over the 20 or so dogs that remain on her property after two raids in December.

Kapsa, who pleaded no contest to the felony charge last month, asked the judge to allow her to keep 20 dogs, including two pair for breeding.

"If I allowed you to have 20 unaltered dogs again we would be right back here where we started," the judge told Kapsa.

Kapsa operated an English shepherd breeding kennel called Shady lanes for years before the raids in December seized most of her dogs, which county officials said were neglected.

Kapsa was charged with two counts of aggravated animal cruelty and four related misdemeanor counts. Kapsa pleaded no contest to one of the felony charges and the remaining charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

Deputy County Attorney Ingrid Rosenquist said she was satisfied with the sentence. But the case also points out the need to enact new laws in the area of animal cruelty, said Rosenquist, such as an anti-hoarding bill that failed to pass the last Legislature.

Kapsa takes the stand at sentencing hearing


Linda Kapsa told a judge this morning that she would like to keep 20 dogs, including two pair for breeding, so she could benefit from their companionship and preserve the bloodline of her English shepherds.

Kapsa also told District Judge Susan Watters that she should not have to pay much in restitution or spend any time on probation after pleading no contest last month to a charge of aggravated animal cruelty.

"It's not like I've gone out and robbed and killed, you know?" Kapsa said late this morning while testifying at her sentencing hearing. "I love my dogs."

The hearing began shortly after 9:30 a.m. Watters admonished the audience that filled the courtroom that an outburst from anyone would result in that person's removal. Watters said she was aware that the case had garnered widespread public attention, but judicial ethics prohibit her from being swayed by "public clamor," she said.

Kapsa took the witness stand at about 11 a.m., following the testimony of Billings attorney Liz Honaker. Kapsa remained on the stand as the noon hour approached, explaining during cross-examination how her breeding program worked.

"If I wanted to go commercial, I could have easily done so," she told Chief Deputy County Attorney Mark Murphy.

She estimated she sold between 100 and 200 puppies a year.

Testimony began this morning with two county officials, Sheriff's Lt. Mike Schieno and Finance Director Scott Turner, who described the expense of caring for the dogs seized from Kapsa. Turner said he estimated the cost at close to $200,000, with about $43,000 received in cash donations.

Schieno said the county would have paid about $300,000 to cover the cost at minimum wage if it had to pay for the work done by volunteers caring for Kapsa's seized dogs.
Source: Billings Gazette - Aug 11, 2009
Update posted on Oct 24, 2009 - 6:19PM 
A judge Thursday denied two motions seeking to dismiss aggravated animal cruelty charges against dog breeder Linda Kapsa, but a decision is still pending on whether the Ballantine woman is competent to stand trial.

District Judge Susan Watters said Kapsa's court-appointed attorney had failed to make the case that the felony charges should be dismissed. The rulings were issued two days after a daylong hearing in which two mental health experts disagreed on Kapsa's competency to stand trial.

Kapsa is accused of neglecting more than 200 dogs and other animals at her Shady Lane Kennels. In December, authorities twice served search warrants at her property, eventually seizing about 200 dogs, 27 chickens, 10 cockatiels and three cats. The authorities also removed the remains of about 24 dogs during the two raids.
Kapsa's trial is set to begin July 13.
Source: Missoulian - July 2, 2009
Update posted on Jul 5, 2009 - 6:56PM 
A state judge has scheduled a hearing March 2 to consider a petition by Yellowstone County prosecutors who say a Ballantine dog breeder charged with cruelty should be ordered to pay for the care of more than 200 dogs seized from her property.

Judge Susan Watters signed the order Friday, two days after Deputy County Attorney Ingrid Rosenquist filed an animal welfare civil action against Linda Kapsa. The little-used law states that a judge can determine whether a defendant charged with cruelty has the financial means to pay for the animal's care while the criminal case is pending.

The judge can order the defendant to post a bond or security to pay for the animal's care. The judge may also order the animal immediately released to the owner.

Kapsa owns Shady Lane Kennels in Ballantine, where she bred and sold English shepherds and pugs. In December, county officials twice served search warrants at the property, eventually seizing more than 200 dogs and other animals.

Last month, Kapsa was charged in District Court with two counts of felony animal cruelty and four related misdemeanor charges. Prosecutors allege that Kapsa failed to properly care for the animals, and about a dozen dead dogs were found on the property.

Kapsa pleaded not guilty to the charges and was allowed to remain free without bond until trial. No trial date has been set.

Most of the dogs are being housed at MetraPark. County officials have spent about $30,000 to care for the animals, and the Sheriff's Office recently submitted a supplemental budget request to county commissioners for $65,000 to pay costs associated with the case.
Source: Billings Gazette - Feb 23, 2009
Update posted on Feb 23, 2009 - 7:17PM 
Inside Barn 21, Stall 15, three female English shepherds seized from Shady Lane Kennels sit together in the corner. Volunteer Angie Randak kneels in the straw nearby, keeping them company to help them get used to human contact.

When she first met the dogs, they panted and paced along the perimeter of the stall, but because of Randak's quiet demeanor and calming tone, they have warmed to her.

"I got them to take food out of my hand," Randak said.

A veteran of animal rescue, Randak said she plans to volunteer as much as possible, and is looking forward to socializing some of the more timid dogs.

"It's difficult they have to stay here for legal reasons, because they would socialize a lot quicker in homes," Randak said.

The dogs are still the property of Linda Kapsa, a Ballantine breeder, who raised English shepherds and pugs.

Some 200 dogs and other animals were seized by the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office during the execution of a search warrant Dec. 30. The sheriff's office and Humane Society officials suspect the dogs were neglected, but no charges have been filed.

The dogs are considered evidence and are being housed at MetraPark, where they are being cared for by 50 to 75 volunteers.

In Barn 21, Stall 13, Randak has a favorite.

After kneeling in the stall, she is recognized by a dog that comes over and gives her a "hug." The dog leans into Randak, nuzzles her head into her chest and sighs. The two have formed a bond, but Randak is trying to remain unattached.

"You kind of have to build a little wall inside, and some of them break through that wall and those are the ones I still remember," Randak said, recalling her animal rescue work in New Orleans.

Volunteers trained

Thursday, Tony Barone, owner of Bark Busters dog training, led a dog-handling course for volunteers. The course taught volunteers how to socialize the dogs.

"When you first start working with these dogs, it has to be the same person every day," said Catherine Schaeffer, manager of the temporary shelter. "You don't want to flood them with too many people. They've already had way too many people."

Ideally, one volunteer will socialize up to six dogs while other volunteers will help feed, water and clean up after them, Schaeffer said. Once trust is established, other volunteers can help. The goal is to have the dogs accustomed enough to people that they can be exercised on a leash and groomed.

This week, the dogs also were separated, with males in one barn and females in the other. Previously, the dogs were kept in the same social units that they were in when they were confiscated to limit fighting. Because they are micro-chipped, all the dogs and their placements are tracked by computer, Schaeffer said.

Volunteer work duties are being streamlined, the dogs are calming down and their health is improving, Schaeffer said.

"Even the chickens (taken during the seizure) are putting on weight," she said.

Newly built fence panels allow sunlight and fresh air into the stalls. Tractor and Supply Company in the Heights offered a 25 percent discount on supplies for the project, Schaeffer said.

Puppies to prison

At the end of one barn are two stalls for puppies that are equipped with heat lamps and chew toys. Energetic puppies from several litters scamper like droplets of water on a hot skillet.

Seventeen of the puppies have been placed in the Prison Paws for Humanity Program at the Women's Prison where inmates socialize puppies and teach basic obedience. The outcome of the court case which is mounting against Kapsa will determine whether the puppies will be available for adoption.

Another two litters of puppies are being cared for at Big Sky Pet Center. They're too young to stay in the unheated stalls at MetraPark, and five are battling infections on their umbilical cords. After eight days of care, veterinarian Rob Bruner is pleased with their progress. Some of the wounds on the 4-week-old puppies were the size of quarters.

"I can't imagine they would have lived through that - so young and in the fecal material and muck they were in," Bruner said.

Several dogs that needed immediate medical care are well enough to go to MetraPark when stalls became available.

"Just getting adequate food or water is going a long way," Bruner said.

One dog, a reddish Labrador retriever mix that was seized during a first search warrant execution on Dec. 11, has developed what Bruner calls "happy tail." The dog has been nursed back to health, except she continues to wag her tail so much that the end of it has developed a sore and needs to be wrapped in a bandage.

Six dogs in the first seizure had parvovirus, and two have since died from the disease. The remaining four are quarantined and being successfully treated.

None of the dogs at MetraPark have tested positive for parvovirus, Bruner said. However, the highly contagious virus is airborne and an outbreak could easily occur. Every day Bruner checks all the dogs at MetraPark for signs of sickness, and has yet to find any that display symptoms of the virus.

"At this time we don't have any diseases causing problems at the Metra," Bruner said.
Source: Helena Independent Record - Jan 9, 2009
Update posted on Jan 11, 2009 - 3:19AM 
A raid that resulted in the seizure of 189 English shepherds from a crowded kennel also turned up 10 frozen dog carcasses and a dead dog found beside the breeder's bed, authorities said Wednesday.

Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Mark Murphy said a decision on whether to file charges against breeder Linda Kapsa will be made sometime next week.

Meanwhile, authorities were seeking tips into the fate of 50 pugs recently seen at Kapsa's Shady Lane Kennels but which are now missing.

The dogs seized Tuesday in Ballantine - many of them covered with fleas and feces and at least six that appeared gravely ill - were being held as evidence at the county fairgrounds in Billings.

"The law of the West is you don't abuse your animals," said County Commissioner Jim Reno. "Leaving little puppies out in below-zero weather, outside, without obvious food or shelter - that doesn't make it here."

Shady Lane Kennels sold dogs over the Internet and had been raided at least twice before, including in early December when 10 dogs were seized and 13 dead dogs were found.

Kapsa did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Authorities speculated that disease or recent subzero temperatures could have killed the 11 dogs found dead Tuesday. Dog carcasses found in the latest raid included six on a manure pile, four in a kennel, and one in Kapsa's house, beside her bed, said John Fleming, animal control officer for the sheriff's office.

All the dead animals except the one inside were frozen solid and one appeared to have been half-eaten by other dogs. Temperatures in Ballantine, which is on the outskirts of Billings, dropped to 15 to 20 degrees below zero within the last several weeks.

"We don't think there were any beatings or anything like that," Fleming said. "They could be dead of hypothermia."

Also seized Tuesday were 27 chickens. Nine horses and 10 cockatiels found on Kapsa's property were left behind. At least some of those animals also appeared to be getting inadequate care, said Dave Pauli, Northern Rockies director for the Humane Society of the United States.
Source: Associated Press via Google News - Jan 1, 2009
Update posted on Jan 3, 2009 - 5:37PM 


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