ANIMAL WATCH-Judge Shellie Samuels is a tough lady with obvious empathy for animals and a staunch lack of tolerance for defendants’ failure to obey court orders. She presided over a two-week jury trial which ended on August 16, 2017, with Los Angeles Lucky Puppy Rescue-Retail owners Rachel Kennedy and Sandra Vasquez found guilty of animal cruelty and animal neglect. LA Animal Services officers seized 68 dogs and three cats from the defendants’ Studio City home on May 6, 2016, in conditions described as, “deplorable and harmful to the animals’ health."
Lucky Puppy was touted as the first upscale Rescue-Retail shop in a highly visible commercial location on Ventura Blvd., created under an ordinance related to Councilman Paul Koretz' LA "puppy-mill" pet shop ban.
Sentencing for both defendants was set for September 29; however, at the end of the trial, Judge Samuels, ordered the defendants to immediately remove more dogs and cats they had already amassed at their new residence in Northridge since the seizure. An LA Animal Services' media release advised that officers removed the additional animals and stated, “Jail time for both defendants as part of the conviction is a possibility.”
LUCKY PUPPY RESCUERS SENTENCED
At the sentencing, Judge Samuels stated, "The defendants have branded themselves as some kind of saviors… I cannot agree with that. These ladies cared about animals but had no idea of how to take care of them. The suffering of these animals was horrendous and they [the defendants] are getting off easy."
"Seeing the sickness of these animals and the conditions of their eyes and ears, with feces stuck to their fur and legs, I am not going to buy how misunderstood they are. They got in over their heads and were unable to care for these animals."
She sentenced RACHEL KENNEDY and SANDRA VASQUEZ for Count 1 (animal abuse) - violation of CA PC § 597(b); Count 2 (animal neglect) - violation of CA PC § 597.1(a); and Count 3 (animal neglect) - violation of CA PC § 597.1.(a), as follows:
Suspended sentence. Summary probation for 36 months.
60 days of Cal-Trans community labor. (May not substitute community service nor perform any activities that involve animals.) If community labor is not done or not completed, jail time will be mandatory for the incomplete period.
180 days in County jail, will be stayed unless there is a violation of terms of probation.
Provide LA Animal Services with current and any updated address. (Search and seizure by animal control officers or humane officers may be conducted at any time without notice.)
May not own or care for any animals for three years nor engage in any animal rescue activities. (May not be involved in any way with Lucky Puppy. Remove and unsubscribe to Lucky Puppy website and not be involved in social media or Facebook activities related to Lucky Puppy.)
Complete mandatory animal cruelty counseling.
Restitution to reimburse LA Animal Services in amount to be determined at November 28 hearing. (subsequently postponed to January 24, 2018.)
Each defendant to pay court fees and fines.
JUDGE’S ORDERS IGNORED
On January 24, Judge Samuel got right to the point as Kennedy and Vasquez stood in front of her with their attorneys:
In four months, you have only attended two animal cruelty classes. In all of October, November and December, you only made it to counseling twice. And you haven't done any community labor. Did you think it was a joke? I gave you a chance to work this out. I should remand you into custody.
That matter was continued for three months for you to complete 12 more counseling sessions. The next hearing is set for May 2. You have to have these classes completed in 90 days.
I am very displeased with you so far. I think what you did to the animals was awful and you should have done better. You were completely out of control and didn't realize that these animals were suffering.
If I have to put you in custody, it will not be in lieu of the counseling and community labor. That order will remain. Custody will be my way of telling you that you have to do what I say.
Judge Samuels also addressed payment for restitution to LA Animal Services for veterinary costs and care of the animal, which she set at $7,211.
You are equally responsible for how this is going to be paid by May 2. If not, you will be remanded that day. Do you understand me, Ms. Kennedy? Ms. Vasquez? You could go to jail!
If you both now go every week for three months, you should have it completed in May. That’s once a week—16 x 8—128 hours of community labor or 90 days in county jail. If you haven't done either you will get 180 days in County jail.
The defense attorney stated that the animal counseling classes are not always available. Judge Samuels responded, “Then get a note from the animal cruelty classes and tell me when they were not available -- or go to jail!
A TOUGH STANCE ON HOARDING/ANIMAL CRUELTY IS OVERDUE
Although the term "hoarding" was not used in regard to Rachel Kennedy and Sandra Vasquez, it should not be overlooked. In the various categories of animal cruelty, hoarding animals is among the most loathsome and unforgivable, based on the number of simultaneous victims, length and degree of visible and internal suffering, and the fact that often the perpetrator manages other aspects of his/her life effectively — indicating that there is mental clarity and intentional deceit during the months or years of neglect of helpless animals (exempting those cases where there is a professional diagnosis of a serious mental disorder).
Too often there has been a failure to prosecute animal hoarders because it is routinely dismissed by officials and judges as merely "obsessive-compulsive behavior," or the result of “good intentions gone awry.” Thus, the obvious evidence of the criminal act is ignored or minimized. Yet, the animal victims are held totally captive -- voiceless and without needed care. Hoarding is not a momentary oversight — it is continuing animal cruelty on a mass basis.
JUDGE JESSE RODRIGUEZ ALSO SAW THIS BLURRED SUBJECT WITH CLEAR VISION
In one of the most high-profile hoarding cases in the LA area, on December 4, 2007, ALEXIA TIRAKI-KYRKLUND, 45, and GLORIA RAMOS, 39, were convicted by a jury on three counts of animal cruelty in running a “no-kill” private animal-rescue center, called NOAH’S ARK, in Long Beach, CA, where 250 dogs and cats in poor condition were seized by Long Beach Animal Control.
Judge Jesse Rodriguez sentenced Tiraki-Kyrklund (who had a prior conviction) to 16 months in prison. In January 2008, she was also ordered to repay $94,614.12 in restitution to Long Beach Animal Control.
Gloria Ramos was sentenced to a term of one year in county jail and five years probation. In January 2008 she was also ordered to repay $94,614.12 in restitution to Long Beach Animal Control.
Following are excerpts from Judge Rodriguez’s comments prior to sentencing:
The victims in this case were vulnerable. They were helpless animals just wanting to be treated fairly. I do believe that animals have feelings and emotions and should be treated fairly. These were helpless beings. They couldn't take care of themselves. They expect other people to take care of them.
The people began their argument, their closing argument, with some sort of cliché about good intentions gone wrong or noble intentions gone awry or however it was phrased by the prosecution.
The court has been concerned that, if Miss Ramos and Miss Kyrklund have this devotion for these animals or for animals in general, how could the situation have gone so far and so bad for those animals? They should have known better. They should have known better that they couldn't handle it.
Both Judge Samuel’s warnings to the Lucky Puppy Rescuers and Judge Rodriguez’ final comment before sentencing the owners of Noah’s Ark send a strong message and reminder to those who allow animals to suffer under the guise of “rescue”: “Good intentions at the beginning just go so far.” And, "You could go to jail!"
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.