Humane Society gets custody of 23 dogs seized in bust

Friday, February 8, 2008

While the fate of three men charged with dogfighting felonies in October remains uncertain, most of the pit bulls seized in the bust may have secured a brighter future.

The Humane Society of Missouri said Thursday it has received permanent custody of 22 pit bulls and one beagle seized Oct. 20 by the Stoddard County Sheriff's Department. The puppies and beagle are now available for adoption to the public through a special adoption process, while the adult pit bulls are available for possible placement with qualified rescue groups.

The Humane Society tried to get custody of the dogs through a disposition hearing, but the law does not provide for one in felony cases, so the dogs would have belonged to the sheriff's department as evidence, said Jeanne Jae, spokeswoman for the Humane Society.

One of the defendants surrendered his ownership to the Humane Society voluntarily, Jae said.

Five remaining adult pit bulls continue to be cared for by the Humane Society of Missouri pending resolution of the case.

The dogs were seized from the residence of Jamie D. Sifford, 29, of Dudley, Mo. Jessey Short, 30, of Cape Girardeau and Curtis Pickering, of South Fulton, Tenn., were also arrested and face felony dogfighting charges.

Pickering pleaded not guilty at an arraignment Monday in Cape Girardeau County on a change of venue from Stoddard County. A trial has been set for June 17 and 18, with a pretrial conference set for June 16.

Sifford appeared in court Tuesday in Stoddard County on 19 counts of dogfighting, three counts of possession of controlled substances and two counts of unlawful use of drug paraphernalia. He did not plead, and no trial date had been set as of Thursday.

Short will be tried for five counts of dogfighting May 12 in Stoddard County.

The day after Pickering's arrest, authorities at the Stoddard County Jail heard a phone recording of him calling home and asking his mother, Judy Pickering, and his girlfriend, Ashley Donaldson, to hide dogs and evidence for him. Both were charged in October with being accessories to dogfighting, said Marty Plunk, investigator with the Weakley County, Tenn., Sheriff's Department.

Orvil Pickering, Curtis Pickering's father, faces one count of dogfighting because the tape found in Stoddard County showed him participating in the fights, Plunk said, and Curtis Pickering also faces a charge of dogfighting in Tennessee.

Humane Society staff have been caring for the dogs since the seizure but were waiting on obtaining full custody before beginning the process of evaluating them for adoptability.

A two-year-old male that was extremely aggressive toward other dogs was euthanized, according to Debbie Hill, vice president of Operations for the Humane Society. The rest of the dogs were temperament tested to gauge how frightened they would get in certain situations and how well they recovered.

The puppies have been taking obedience classes and learning basic training, like how to walk on a leash, Hill said.

Hill said most of the dogs are remarkably "people-friendly" considering their ordeal.

"It never ceases to amaze me how willing dogs are to forgive humans," Hill said.

The dogs have recovered from the wounds and parasites they had when they were brought to the Humane Society, but healing them mentally may be the toughest part, she said.

Anyone interested in adoption information may call 314-802-5712.

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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