Poplar Bluff woman charged with animal abuse, neglect

Friday, April 9, 2004

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- A Poplar Bluff woman was charged Thursday with animal neglect and abuse after authorities seized 59 animals from her home, in conditions the Humane Society of Missouri described as deplorable.

Wanda Russell was summoned to appear Monday to answer to the charges, a spokeswoman for the Butler County Sheriff's Department said. She is not in custody. She has an unlisted number and could not be reached for comment.

The sheriff's department seized the 55 dogs, three cats and a dead puppy Thursday morning with the help of the Humane Society of Missouri after an anonymous caller provided a tip. The Humane Society had been working with Russell since 2000 to educate and encourage her to provide better care, said Debbie Hill, interim director of rescues and investigations.

"She has been given numerous chances to rectify the situation," Butler County Sheriff's Deputy Cindy Bayer told the Daily American Republic. "We talked to her last week and told her she would have to do something. Many of the dogs had no water, no food and were living in mud puddles. Her house is full of urine and feces from the dogs living there. It is so bad she is not even sure how many dogs are in there."

Agents with the Humane Society found dogs chained to trees, cars, and propane tanks and used bolt cutters to release them. One was chained to a post in the middle of a mud puddle.

Inside, agents made their way through a dark, damp house covered with feces. Amidst piles of boxes and bags of stuff throughout the house, they discovered dogs tethered to furniture and one tied beneath a freezer.

Three medium-sized shepherd mixes were cramped into a wooden box with no room to stand or move. An air hole provided the only ventilation, said Kyle Held, a statewide investigator who helped in the rescue. The dogs were startled by the light, but soon began licking the hands of their rescuers, he said.

Hill said the roof of the house had collapsed and the windows had been boarded up. There was no bathroom or running water. One cat was in a 14-by-14-inch cage; two other cats shared a 2-foot-by-2-foot cage. A half foot of petrified feces filled their cages. "They could not move away from it," Hill said.

The animals were taken by a special transport truck to the Humane Society's shelter in St. Louis, where an assembly line of employees soothed and petted the animals, named them and took their photographs, wormed and inoculated them and trimmed their toenails.

Dr. Donald Bridges, director of veterinary services, assessed each animal's health. He said many were malnourished and showed evidence of neglect. Aside from a few week-old puppies that showed signs of distress, Humane Society staff felt certain the animals could be restored to good health and placed for adoption.

The Daily American Republic reported that Russell had an animal cruelty conviction in Polk County, Fla., and had been sentenced to serve time in jail there.

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