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Dogs Lived in Filth, Officer Testifies

March 06, 2004|Erin Ailworth | Times Staff Writer

Feces coated the carpet and bloated ticks smeared blood on the walls of the Antelope Valley home where 235 feral Chihuahuas were discovered, a county animal control officer testified Friday in court.

The officer testified during the first day of trial for Acton dog breeder Emma Regina Harter, who is charged with six counts of animal abuse, including two felony cruelty charges, and one count of battering an officer.

Even after 12 years of kennel inspections, Lt. Sheri Koenig, who led the inspection of Harter's home, said she had never before seen such bad conditions. "I just saw these massive amounts of dogs -- Chihuahuas -- barking at me," she said.

If convicted, the 72-year-old Harter faces up to three years in prison. Deputy Dist. Atty. Steven Heller said he does not recommend imprisonment. Harter's attorney maintains she is the victim of exaggeration.

The dogs were discovered in July 2002 when neighbors complained to the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control about stench and barking coming from the four-bedroom home in the 32300 block of Michigan Street.

Harter refused to let officers into her house, but Koenig said urine and feces could be smelled from halfway up the dirt driveway. Animal control officers and sheriff's deputies returned four months later with an inspection warrant.

At first, Harter again refused to let them in, Koenig said. An officer then kicked in the front door of the ranch-style home. As they entered, Harter allegedly pushed Koenig.

Koenig testified that she saw "a sea of glowing eyes" as barking dogs scattered beneath couches, through holes in the wall and out pet doors. One dog dragged itself out of a box and scrambled away on its front legs -- its back legs were paralyzed, she said. Feces layered the carpet and a half-eaten chicken carcass was found under one couch.

The dogs had become so aggressive that they attacked and killed each other, the prosecutor said.

Robert D. Conaway, Harter's attorney, said in his opening statements that his client was a considerate breeder.

She "opened her house to the dogs" for 20 years and provided them with appropriate care, adequate kennel areas and often private bedding, he said. "We are not going to dispute she had a lot of dogs," he added, but there are no numbers limiting breeders.

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