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Emily Welker, Published December 04 2013

Wheatland dog breeder pleads guilty to animal abuse

FARGO – A Wheatland man charged with neglecting about 170 dogs at an apparent puppy mill at his rural home has pleaded guilty in the case.

The defense attorney for Darcy Darrell Smith, 51, entered an Alford plea to one count of Class A misdemeanor animal abuse on Smith’s behalf at a hearing Wednesday in Cass County District Court.

At the hearing, prosecutors amended the charge of depriving an animal of necessary food or water to include all the 168 dogs seized from Smith’s Wheatland-area home July 10.

Five other animal neglect charges against him were dropped.

In an Alford plea, a defendant admits prosecutors likely have enough evidence for a jury to convict them at a trial but maintains he is not guilty.

Cass County sheriff’s deputies said they seized the dogs from Smith’s breeding operation after finding them stacked in cages three deep, some dogs five to a cage, living in piles of their own feces and urine-soaked paper.

Some animals had not been groomed in so long they were immobilized by their own matted fur, authorities said.

Cass County prosecutor Leah Viste said after the plea hearing that the case was not likely to satisfy all the members of the public who had spoken out against animal abuse in the wake of the seizure.

“I think there’s a lot of people who put their hearts and their money out in this case,” Viste said.

Medical care, housing and finding homes for the animals required a massive rescue effort on the behalf of local animal welfare advocates and veterinarians, fueled in large part by donations from the public.

Viste said at the time of the crime that multiple charges against Smith would not bring more penalties because state law requires sentences to be served concurrently if the crimes are committed in the same course of action.

The prosecutor said the state was seeking a sentence against Smith in which he would be prohibited from owning any more dogs. The sentencing hearing is set for Jan. 6.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541