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Emily Welker, Published July 30 2013

Wheatland breeder waives rights to 170 seized dogs; investigation sheds light on mistreatment

FARGO – The Wheatland man whose 170 dogs were seized July 10 from an apparent puppy mill waived his rights Tuesday in Cass County District Court to regain custody of them, paving the way for the animals – 10 of whom are expecting puppies – to be adopted out.

Darcy Darrell Smith, 51, was not at Tuesday’s civil hearing, but filed a stipulation on Monday stating he was waiving his rights to the dogs.

Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said Judge Steven McCullough’s order giving the sheriff custody of the dogs will allow him to begin working with local rescue agency 4 Luv of Dog to seek permanent homes. All but 13 are eligible for adoption.

Laney said he would defer to the rescue organization’s procedures for seeking homes.

“It’s not just something that happens in a couple of minutes,” he said. “The last thing we’re going to do is place them in another puppy mill situation or another bad situation.”

Board member Amy Kracht of 4 Luv of Dog referred people interested in adopting one of the Wheatland rescue dogs to the organization’s website at www.4luvofdog.org for information on the adoption process.

Prosecutors’ filings in the run-up to Tuesday’s hearing shed more light on the condition of the animals when they were seized from the Wheatland property.

An affidavit filed July 24 with the case signed by Natalie Helm, a veterinary technician at Casselton (N.D.) Veterinary Service, which cared for the dogs after they were seized, stated the animals had been living so long in their own urine and feces they did not know they should urinate and defecate outside.

Helm’s affidavit also stated the veterinarian and volunteer workers spent many hours trying to earn the dogs’ trust. Some of the dogs had so much fear they were aggressive, making them almost impossible to handle, she wrote. None of the dogs were leash-trained.

An affidavit filed July 24 by Dr. Trevor Bjerke, a veterinarian at the Casselton clinic, stated the dogs had been denied access to fresh water and food, and the only ventilation in the machine shed where some of the dogs were kept was a single fan coated with fur and dust.

The dogs were severely matted, the affidavit stated, and all the dogs tested positive for hook worms and coccidia, an infection.

Also among the evidence filed by prosecutors was an itemized spreadsheet detailing 41 pages worth of drugs, procedures and tests Casselton veterinary professionals ran on the dogs.

The cost for care was estimated at more than $100,000, most of which Casselton Veterinary Service chose to donate, said Sgt. Tara Morris of the Cass County Sheriff’s Department. A public fund established for donations for the dogs’ care has taken in more than $30,000, she said.

Cass County prosecutors said they are still considering whether to charge Smith criminally. They are awaiting additional documentation of the 170 dogs’ medical conditions.

Smith did not return a phone call seeking comment on Tuesday.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541