Case Snapshot
Case ID: 19131
Classification: Hoarding
Animal: cat, dog (non pit-bull)
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Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012

County: Haywood

Charges: Felony CTA
Disposition: Alleged

Alleged:
» Bonnie Sheehan
» Pamela A. King-McCracken

Case Updates: 4 update(s) available

Police in Tennessee say they found 144 dogs and one cat inside a U-Haul truck that was headed to Virginia from California. Most of the dogs, crammed three or four to a crate, were packed inside. There were also dogs in a white mini-van attached to the truck.

Officers say it's likely the animals hadn't been walked or fed in days, and they were living in their own filth. One of the dogs died, and now two women are facing charges for animal cruelty.

The dogs are being looked after by animal rescue groups in the area.

Bonnie Sheehan, 55, and Pamela A. King-McCracken, 59, are being held on $100,000 bail each. Both face at least 128 charges of animal neglect, which is a Class E felony. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 24.

The two women ran a California nonprofit called "Hearts for Hounds."

Several months ago, the crew at Angels of Assisi had heard "Hearts for Hounds" may be relocating to Virginia, which alone raised red flags because the group hadn't contacted any local rescue groups for help. So there was no surprise when the crew heard the group was arrested in Tennessee.

However, they say what doesn't make sense to them is how an animal rescue group could put 145 animals through the ordeal these animals were forced to endure.

"A lot of people have big hearts and really good intentions when they go into rescue. But it takes more than good intentions when you run a rescue," said Dr. Michelle Spangler with Angels of Assisi.

Angels of Assisi has plenty of experience in that department. In their transport system, each animal gets its own cage that is strapped in, food and water when needed, and heat or AC depending on the weather. The truck is also clearly marked a pet transport truck. And that's for short trips.

They say a 2,700 mile trip, from California to Virginia, with that many animals is difficult to fathom.

"Animals over a long distance need to be taken out of their crates and walked every 3-4 hours so they can urinate and defecate and if not, those cages need to be cleaned quite frequently. So it takes a lot of work," said Spangler.

Even more baffling is where these animals would have ended up once in Virginia. Both women own homes in Roanoke, which by code would not suffice. A 12-acre Huddleston-area farm, bought by King-McCracken in December, sits seemingly untouched since it was foreclosed in 2010. A weatherization warning sticker is posted on the front door.

According to their website, which has since been disabled, "Hearts for Hounds" had been preparing for an adoption drive in Huddleston this weekend. That adoption drive has been canceled.

It's also important to note that while "Hearts for Hounds" is a registered nonprofit in California, there is no record of the group here in Virginia.

The Shelby County District Attorney's Office also says there is no evidence yet that the two women obtained an interstate transport health certificate for the animals required by federal law.

One certificate for every animal should have been issued after a conditions check by a veterinarian in California.

Tuesday evening, the Hearts For Hounds website listed an address of 1416 Campbell Avenue SW, Roanoke, VA 24016. By 9:30 p.m. (EST) Tuesday night, that address had been removed from the website's 'contact' page. WSLS has a screenshot with the webpage before and after the Roanoke address removal.


Case Updates

Two Long Beach women facing felony animal cruelty charges in Tennessee will have their case heard by the state's grand jury, most likely in July.

At a preliminary hearing Monday at Fayette County General Sessions Court, the case of Bonnie Sheehan, founder of the Hearts for Hounds dog rescue group, and Pam King-McCracken, was bound over to the Circuit Court.

General Sessions Judge Mike Whitaker found enough evidence to allow the prosecution to present its case to the grand jury, which will decide whether the case goes to trial.

The clerk at the court said it was possible but unlikely the grand jury could hear the case this month. However, it is expected to hear the case July 23 and announce a decision July 26.

The district attorney's office wasn't immediately available for comment.
Source: presstelegram.com - Mar 19, 2012
Update posted on Mar 20, 2012 - 8:11PM 
Two Long Beach women facing felony animal cruelty charges in Tennessee, had a preliminary hearing rescheduled in Fayette County General Sessions Court.

Bonnie Sheehan, the founder of the Hearts For Hounds dog rescue operation, and her companion, Pamela King-McCracken, have a hearing scheduled for Monday, March 19 at 1:30 p.m.

The two were stopped near Memphis, Tenn., in January while attempting to transport 141 dogs and a cat in a U-Haul and van from Long Beach to Virginia, where Sheehan had hoped to relocate her pet rescue operation.

Both women were free on bond. In an earlier court session, the women surrendered permanent custody of the remaining animals - one dog had died - according to officials in Tennessee.

The dogs and cat were placed with humane animal care shelters scattered from Colorado to Florida. Another 17 dogs left in Long Beach have also been placed in no-kill shelters and put up for adoption.

Supporters of the two women are working to hold a fund-raiser to help pay for legal costs. Details are pending.
Source: contracostatimes.com- Mar 13, 2012
Update posted on Mar 13, 2012 - 9:06PM 
Two Long Beach dog rescuers facing animal cruelty charges in Tennessee had a scheduled Tuesday preliminary court date pushed back three weeks.

Bonnie Sheehan, founder of the Hearts For Hounds dog rescue operation and her companion Pamela King-McCracken each face one felony count of aggravated animal cruelty.

They are scheduled to return to court March 13.

The two were stopped near Memphis, Tenn., in January while attempting to transport 141 dogs and a cat in a U-Haul and van from Long Beach to Virginia, where Sheehan hoped to relocate her pet rescue operation.

Both women are free on bond. In an earlier court session, the women surrendered permanent custody of the remaining animals - one dog had died - to officials in Tennessee.

The dogs and cat were placed with humane animal care shelters and will be or have been made available for adoption. Also, 17 dogs left in Long Beach have placed in no-kill shelters for adoption.
Source: presstelegram.com - Feb 21, 2012
Update posted on Feb 23, 2012 - 9:17AM 
It was supposed to be a heartwarming story: Locally admired dog rescuer takes her labor of love to a farm in bucolic Virginia where her adorable pooches can happily roam while waiting to be adopted into new homes.

Somewhere along the way - more specifically near the Tennessee/Missouri border - it all went terribly wrong.

Now Bonnie Sheehan, who used to boast of having saved 17,000 dogs, stands accused of possibly the one crime that could break the heart of an animal rescuer - aggravated animal cruelty.

Sheehan and passenger Pamela King-McCracken were pulled over Jan. 17 for a traffic violation near Memphis, Tenn., where police found 141 dogs and a cat in a U-Haul truck and towed minivan in allegedly deplorable conditions. One dog was dead.

Sheehan was on her way to Virginia where she hoped to relocate her Hearts for Hounds rescue operation, which she had established in Long Beach in 1997.

As the local animal lover awaits her day in court, a mixed story about the woman and her nonprofit Hearts for Hounds is unfolding.

To some, she is a pariah who has no excuse for subjecting dogs to conditions that law enforcement and animal rescuers described as deplorable. To others she is a well-meaning person and loving animal caregiver who simply became overwhelmed.

To still others, she is a victim of media sensationalization, maybe even set up for failure.

Her case has taken on a life of its own in social media, with responses running the gamut from harsh lambasting to full-fledged support. The overall outcome has been a circus of suggestion and innuendo, conspiracy theories, claims and counterclaims.

So inflamed are emotions that most of Sheehan's and King-McCracken's supporters and detractors alike refuse to identify themselves or go on the record with the media.

Some supporters and witnesses are said to fear retribution from Long Beach Animal Care Services if they speak out.

Sheehan hasn't spoken publicly, and the city of Long Beach has similarly begun limiting comment, citing an ongoing investigation.

The city has said its animal care officer reported seeing 10 animals being loaded in kennels for transport on the day Sheehan left town Jan. 15.

Others have suggested officials were more involved and actually helped load the animals into the U-Haul, something Sheehan's lawyer David Douglas alluded to when he talked to media in Tennessee last week.

"I think she was following through on what she was told is the right way to do things," Douglas told Memphis-based WMCTV.

Stories good and bad

The friends and supporters of Bonnie Sheehan who have come forward tell remarkably similar stories. Invariably they adopted dogs, usually two or three, from Hearts for Hounds.

They are people such as Jeanne Winkenwerder, who adopted her dogs Guinness and Bailey from Sheehan's group.

The Belmont Heights resident said she and her partner met Sheehan at a farmer's market and were enamored both by the dog lover and her operation.

"We really liked her," Winkenwerder said. "She had such a big heart."

Winkenwerder said Sheehan became like a surrogate mom to her family.

Whenever there were questions and concerns about the dogs, she said Sheehan would call back to offer advice and comfort.

As troubling as anything to Winkenwerder has been the level of vitriol on websites.

"It just breaks my heart and made me sick what people said. I literally gasped when I first read (about Sheehan)," Winkenwerder said. "If we didn't know her, we might think `Whoa, this woman is terrible."'

Carri Sabel said she's known Sheehan for 11 years and adopted two dogs, Isaac and Gus, from Hearts for Hounds.

"I can attest to the fact that she's an amazing person. She probably just got a bit over her head," Sabel said. "But she would never do anything to put an animal in harm's way. This woman's selfless in her efforts to save dogs."

Not all have had positive interactions.

Barbara Mitchell and her mother, Katharina Herndon, say Sheehan cajoled Herndon into adopting Nikki, an extremely ill dog.

"The dog should never have been adopted out," Mitchell said.

Herndon, 76, said Nikki came home and immediately had explosive diarrhea and crawled into an empty bird cage at her house.

She says she spent more than $400 on medicine for the dog, and that Sheehan only responded when she stopped payment on the $250 adoption fee.

Marcia Fisher said she adopted Stewart, a poodle mix, from Hearts for Hounds, and later paid $100 a week to board the dog with Sheehan when her landlord told her she couldn't keep the dog.

According to Fisher, Sheehan later told her she had adopted Stewart to someone in Georgia.

Fisher was able to get the dog from Sheehan and is trying to find a place that allows dogs.

Stewy, however, is at the Long Beach Animal Services shelter and listed for adoption.

`She was overpopulated'

For the past two years, concerns have been raised about Sheehan having too many dogs.

According to Animal Care Services, in 2010 she had roughly 150 dogs, double the amount of dogs for which she was permitted.

That same year the Southeast Area Animal Control Authority, whose shelter is in Downey, stopped releasing dogs to Sheehan.

"We saw she was overpopulated," said Dan Morrison, executive director of the shelter. "We had to turn off her stream."

Until that time, however, Morrison was a big booster.

"She was a major resource for SEACA," said Morrison, noting that his shelter typically deals with rescue organizations. "Bonnie selected us in the '90s and for the most part she was excellent at what she did, but it just went away."

Because his shelter no longer inspected Hearts for Hounds, Morrison says he didn't know what had transpired since.

However, he added of Sheehan: "When she's not monitored, that's when she loses control. I think she got overwhelmed and she couldn't save them all."

Like many dog rescue operators, Morrison suspects Sheehan was hit hard by the economy.

At his shelter, Morrison says the intake of dogs increased from 6,000 to 9,000 during the recession, "and we're not seeing any relief."

Morrison said almost all dog rescuers - a term he doesn't like - have trouble turning animals away. Invariably as this happens, they begin to exceed their permit limits.

"Most hide what they're doing because they don't want to turn an animal in," Morrison said.

Christina Lee of the award-winning nonprofit Lange Foundation in Los Angeles, founded by Gillian Lange, says a rescue shelter has to be willing to make the hard decisions and be able to say no.

"At the end of the day, you have to be able to step back," Lee said.

Even with staffing, Lange keeps only about 30 to 35 dogs at a time. It also has about 80 cats.

Last year, Lee says her foundation placed about 600 dogs. Each adoption is about $350, including a screening process, home visit, spaying or neutering, microchip and medications and vaccinations.

Despite having volunteers, Sheehan, who lived on the property with her dogs, was mostly a one-woman operation; stepping back was never really an option.

"You have to look at your resources and be able to decide," said Lee, which is what Lange does.

"I think you want to save them all," Lee said. "I, thankfully, have never had to make those decisions. Gillian goes to the shelter."

David West got into the rescue game after adopting Miss Lucy, a puggle, and Mr. Piffers, a poodle mix.

However, West, who owns LB Exotics pet store, has kept his effort contained and his goals modest.

West said he has only three to five dogs at a time and says that alone is more than enough to keep him busy and test his patience.

"When you work on a small scale, it's from the heart," West said. "If you do it on a large scale, it's easy to bite off more than you can chew."

Unfortunately, much of dog rescue occurs in a murky, secretive subculture.

"A big problem with rescue is that we are pretty much forced underground because the number of animals one can legally keep is so small," says Betsy Denhart of the Pet Assistance Foundation.

Denhart says the blame goes two ways. On one hand she says rescuers have to come to terms with euthanasia, but that the government can be indiscriminate in wielding its power.

She said this sets up a cloak of secrecy and fear of Animal Care Services that inevitably strains relationships.

According to Denhart, when rescuers confide their number of animals, it is a signal of trust.

Although Sheehan's plans to move to the Virginia countryside were well-known, according to her supporters, a happy ending was no sure thing.

It is possible that had Sheehan even made it to Virginia, she would have just exchanged one set of problems for another.

News outlets in Virginia reported that no legally required paperwork or licensing had been submitted for Heart for Hounds. This despite the fact that more than 50 of her dogs were listed for adoption in Virginia.

The Virginia media also said that neither property listed for Sheehan and King-McCracken were zoned for dog rescues.

Sheehan had other problems maintaining proper paperwork.

Searches for Hearts for Hounds on the Guidestar and Foundation Center websites, which compile nonprofit organizations' tax return forms, show the most recent income tax form for the group was filed in 2006. It lists the organization as being based in Roanoke, Va.

The form lists no income, no revenue, no sales and no grants, with rough handwritten zeroes in the spaces. No board members are listed and the form appears to be signed by Sheehan.

At a crossroads in her life now, the future for Sheehan and her nonprofit remain unknown. Friends have said both women are devastated by the charges.

Even if Sheehan goes to court in Tennessee and is exonerated and vindicated - she is scheduled for a Feb. 21 hearing - there will likely be those who will forever brand her.

In agreeing last week to surrender her 140 dogs and cat to Tennessee animal shelters, it is hard to know exactly what Sheehan gave up emotionally. Some have suggested that might have been the most difficult blow.

Once upon a time, it seemed such a beautiful dream, to live in the scenic Roanoke Valley with her extended canine family.

Perhaps the warning signs were there - but clearly no one saw the dream going so terribly wrong.
Source: presstelegram.com - Jan 28, 2012
Update posted on Jan 29, 2012 - 6:37PM 

References

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