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Rusk County woman hands over custody of seized animals

By Clare McCarthy
July 12, 2017 at 12:02 p.m.
Updated July 12, 2017 at 3:43 p.m.

Forty-six animals found in poor condition with no food or water were seized Tuesday from a property near Henderson, according to the Rusk County Sheriff's Office.

A Rusk County woman who had 46 animals seized from her property in June has turned over custody but still could face animal cruelty charges, according to the Rusk County Sheriff’s Office.

Mary Katherine Erskine handed over the animals this past week to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Texas in an agreement that stipulates she will not have to pay $14,000 in vet bills and fines, according to Sgt. David Roberts with the sheriff’s office.

“If she wanted custody of the animals, she would have had to pay for the vet work,” Roberts said.

The SPCA of Texas and the sheriff’s office seized the animals June 27 after determining it was “in the animals’ best interest to remove them,” according to a statement from the association.

In total, 28 dogs, nine kittens, six puppies, two cats and one red-eared slider turtle were removed.

Bodies of multiple dogs also were found on the property, some whose remains were too decomposed to move.

Roberts said Erskine was not arrested during the seizure because SPCA medical staff first needed to examine the animals and determine their conditions.

“Because of their health and the different parasites in (the animals), and because there were no records of medical care from a vet on them, that’s why we seized them and then went to court,” Roberts said.

According to a warrant filed for the seizure of the animals, Erskine told a Rusk County animal control deputy that the dogs were “taken care of” and that “there was no problem with the dogs.”

When asked if there were any dead animals on the property, the owner told the deputy there were a few, but she hadn’t removed them from the property.

The owner told the deputy one dog died of cancer and the others died of the parvo virus. When asked how she knew that, the owner said she had a puppy euthanized at the vet because it tested positive for the virus, according to the warrant.

Dogs were found throughout the property with no food or water, and some were found with chains so tangled up that they could not reach water near them, the warrant said. A pile of trash and used litter was also found near where the cats were kept in a travel trailer, the deputy reported.

“One dog and all of the cats were found living in the RV-type living quarters on the property, cruelly confined, forced to live in their own feces and debris, without access to appropriate food or water,” the SPCA said in a statement. “The turtle was found in a small blue plastic pool outside the residence without access to appropriate food or water.

“The animals appear to have varying health issues, including malnourishment, hair loss, long nails, eye discharge and flea infestation. One dog had an extremely large growth on one leg. The chains used to restrain the dogs had rubbed the dogs’ necks raw, and investigators had to use bolt cutters to free the dogs,” the SPCA statement said.

Roberts said the Rusk County Sheriff’s Office deals with animal cruelty cases all the time. He said the largest number of animals he’s seen seized during the past 10 years was 120 dogs and one snake. He said that case is set to go to court sometime this week or next.

“We field them all the time over here,” Roberts said. “SPCA wants us to file those charges. And this is their words, but I agree with them — it’s not to put people in jail. That’s not our goal. What we want is to press the issue to get the charges and then offer them a plea deal.”

Roberts said most plea deals for animal cruelty cases involve a property owner turning over custody of the animals and being put on probation with the stipulation that he or she does not own other animals.

“That’s the ultimate goal: to put them on probation so that they cannot own another animal,” Roberts said. “Because we don’t want to have to go through that again. We don’t want to have to go back down there and collect another 100 or so dogs from them in a year or two.”

Although Erskine handed over custody of the animals, she could still face charges, Roberts said.

“We’re still waiting on the final report from the vets at the SPCA,” he said. “Then we will run this across to the (district attorney) as a case to see if a grand jury will indict her on animal cruelty charges.

“Now, what the grand jury will do with it, who knows? It might not even get to a grand jury because the DA might decided not to take the case and send it right back to us.”

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