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Judge's Ruling Saves 170 Dogs

The Chihuahuas, taken from an Acton breeder last year, are to be released to a rescue group based in Burbank early next week.

August 09, 2003|Michael Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

A judge ruled Friday that 170 Chihuahuas -- deemed by some officials as too wild for adoption -- would not be destroyed after all and instead would be released to a rescue group that has pledged to rehabilitate the dogs.

"We won and I'm in shock and thrilled," said Kimi Peck, president of the Burbank-based Chihuahua Rescue.

"By Monday we will start getting the dogs," Peck said. "It's going to cost thousands, but it's worth it to save these dogs."

The dogs, which initially numbered 236, were confiscated from a breeder last year. The dogs had never been socialized and formed vicious, feral packs, authorities said. Only 36 were deemed suitable for adoption.

Lancaster Superior Court Judge Lisa Chung compared the plight of the tiny dogs to abused children as she announced the dogs would not be put to sleep.

Chihuahua Rescue pledged to place the dogs with people across the country who know how to work with dogs with behavioral problems.

The saga of the Chihuahuas began when neighbors of animal breeder Emma Harter complained that she was housing the dogs in unsanitary conditions.

Los Angeles County animal control officials raided her property in Acton, an unincorporated community northeast of Santa Clarita, and found scores of the dogs living in close quarters.

The dogs were not neutered or spayed and more Chihuahuas were later born at a shelter in Baldwin Park, where they have been held for eight months.

Some dogs had to be destroyed because they were ill, and some were killed by other Chihuahuas.

The district attorney's office has filed two felony and four misdemeanor animal-cruelty charges against Harter.

Harter faces three years and eight months in state prison if convicted, according to Sandi Gibbons of the Los Angeles district attorney's office.

Chung has rejected a motion to dismiss the case.

Dog rights activist Peck said the dogs should not be faulted for their behavior. She blamed their cramped living conditions and poor treatment.

"Everything that is wrong with the dogs is what human beings did to them," Peck said.

Referring to Harter, Peck said: "She just wanted a lot of dogs so she could sell them and make money."

The fate of the dogs prompted much debate within the community of Chihuahua fanciers.

Chihuahua Rescue referred to the animals as "angels on death row," and secured the support of an airline to transport the dogs to new homes.

Another group, Chihuahua Rescue and Transport, said the dogs' health and behavioral problems had left the animals beyond help. In a statement on its Web site, the group said: "We cannot support these dogs being placed in any homes."

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