The living arrangement of seven dogs seized from their owner's home was the topic of a replevin hearing Monday in Carroll County District Court.
Visiting Judge Alice Clark decided to defer presenting her decision until May 25 in order to review documents entered into evidence.
Eleven dogs total were seized from the home of Laura Shenk, the plaintiff in the replevin hearing, by Animal Control in 2017. Three were euthanized while in the care of the Humane Society. One was returned to a former owner.
The purpose of the replevin hearing is to determine whether it is necessary for the seven remaining animals to remain in the care of the Humane Society of Carroll County either to prevent cruelty or because of medical necessity.
The Humane Society sought animal cruelty charges against Shenk, but the Carroll County State's Attorney's Office announced its decision not to prosecute in May 2017.
On Monday, Shenk's attorney Scott Swafford, argued during closing arguments that the burden was on the Humane Society to prove that the continued retention of the dogs was "necessary, not preferable, but absolutely necessary."
He said that the dogs were initially seized not because of a medical evaluation but because of an outward perception of the conditions. No evidence exists to suggest the animals will be subjected to cruelty if they are returned to Shenk, Swafford said.
Defense attorney Gail Kessler said that if the dogs are returned to Shenk, she will immediate be in violation of Carroll County's zoning codes, which don't allow more than three dogs to be kept without a private kennel designation.
Kessler also said that upon seizure, at least one of the dogs was in "horrible condition" and there was no testimony that suggested Shenk would appropriately care for the animals if they were returned to her. Kessler said that in the year between the time the animals were seized and when the court visited Shenk's home in February 2018, she had not made adequate efforts to clean the property or fix the fence. She had also not provided an animal health care plan.
"I'm asking the court not to return these dogs to her," Kessler said. "She doesn't know how to care for them."
The defense, representing the Humane Society of Carroll County, began Monday by calling Animal Control Officer Ed Smith. Smith was first called to investigate on Feb. 12, 2017, after a veterinarian expressed concern about a cat in Shenk's care.
On that date, Animal Control made contact with Shenk and seized the cat. The cat was taken for emergency vet care and was euthanized after two days.
Officers then obtained a search and seizure warrant and returned to Shenk's property on Feb. 21, 2017, Smith testified. Charles Brown, then executive director of the Humane Society of Carroll County, made the decision to seize three dogs who were in the most immediate need of care.
These were determined to be Susie, Smiley and Tisha. Susie showed signs of a skin condition with flaking skin and hair loss. Smiley was allegedly found in a kennel that was too small to lay down or stand up in. Tisha was experiencing uncontrolled loose stool.
Another warrant was obtained and seizure of the additional eight dogs occurred on March 3, 2017.
The court walked through Shenk's house on Feb. 26, 2018, nearly a year later in order to observe the condition of the home.
Michelle Fidler, the Humane Society of Carroll County's director of animal care, also testified for the defense. Along with her testimony, the court received into evidence records of the 11 dogs' condition upon intake and records of their care.
Fidler reported that, according to vet assessment, all of the dogs were underweight to some degree.
Some of the dogs were infected with whipworm. They were de-wormed.
Fidler also testified that the dogs improved in socialization from their time at the shelter.
Tisha, one of the dogs seized on the initial warrant, was euthanized in October 2017. Fidler said this was because of complications from mammary tumors on the 17-year-old dog.
Two other dogs, Smiley and Missy, were euthanized while in the care of the Humane Society.
Fidler said she was on vacation at the time this was done and was not present. She said Missy was euthanized because of labored breathing and inability to stand, and a vet decided it would be humane to euthanize, she said. Smiley showed signs of lethargy and was not eating, she said.
During cross-examination, Swafford asked whether a vet opinion had been given whether Susie's skin condition was chronic. He noted that Humane Society records showed she had begun to itch again several weeks after treatment began.
When asked about the dogs' weights and whether some of them had crossed into the category of obese after weight gain at the shelter, Fidler said she was not a veterinarian and could not comment.
During the rebuttal, Swafford recalled Shenk as a witness. Swafford asked if the dogs were returned tomorrow, what Shenk would do.
"I'd take them home and love them. I'd be thrilled to pieces," she said.
The plaintiff also entered into evidence records seized from the house, which included veterinarian records, in order to show a history of providing vet care.
Early in the day's proceedings, Shenk was scolded by Clark for posting on Facebook about the hearing when under a sequestration order.
Shenk is the founder of Animal Advocates of Carroll County, a group who have previously raised concern about the Humane Society of Carroll County's policy for euthanizing animals.