ANIMAL WATCH-On May 2, LA Superior Court Judge Shellie Samuels denied a request to reduce the sentences of the two Los Angeles Lucky Puppy Rescue Retail store owners, Rachel Kennedy and Sandra Vasquez, who are currently on suspended sentences with summary probation after conviction for animal abuse and neglect.
On August 23, 2017, LA Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette issued a media release announcing, “LA Animal Services investigation leads to animal cruelty conviction for Lucky Puppy owners." The guilty verdict for one count of animal abuse and two counts of negligence against Rachel Kennedy and Sandra Vasquez had been rendered by a jury on August 16. The delay in the public advisory by Barnette may have partly stemmed from an undenied claim that 19 of those animals were released to Kennedy by LA Animal Services the week before.
During the seizure which took place on May 6, 2016, LAAS officers found 68 dogs and three cats kept inside Rachel Kennedy's residence in Studio City under conditions that "were deplorable and harmful to the animals' health," the release stated. Both defendants were found guilty of failing to provide medical treatment, which resulted in one dog being in life-threatening condition. Several of the seized animals were suffering from various medical conditions.
According to LAAS, the judge ordered the defendants to remove more dogs and cats which they had amassed at their new residence in Northridge after the initial seizure, and officers from LA Animal Services assured the animals were removed.
SENTENCING BY JUDGE SHELLIE SAMUELS
Judge Samuels sentenced Rachel Kennedy and Sandra Vasquez on Sept. 29, 2017, for one count of animal abuse and two counts of animal neglect, granting a suspended sentence with summary probation for 36 months, which included the following conditions:
--60 days of Cal-Trans community labor. (If community labor not done or not completed, jail time mandatory for the incomplete period.)
--80 days in County jail. (Stayed, unless there is a violation of terms of probation.)
--Both defendants must 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 Rescue. 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 status hearing.
--Each defendant to pay court fees and fines.
PROBATIONARY STATUS REPORT HEARING
On January 24, 2018, Judge Samuels expressed her displeasure and impatience with the fact that, in four months, each defendant had attended only two animal-cruelty classes and had done NO community labor. She asked, “Did you think it was a joke? I gave you a chance to work this out. I should remand you into custody.”
She set another status report hearing for May 2, and advised them sternly, "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 counselling and community labor. That order will remain."
Judge Samuels also addressed payment of restitution to LA Animal Services for veterinary costs and care of the animals, which she set at $7,211. She told the defendants, "You are equally responsible for how this is going to be paid by May 2. If not, you will be remanded that day."
Find Law warns that there are serious consequences for failing to fully perform the court's required service after receiving suspended jail time. Failure to meet the sentencing requirements can result in imposition of a much tougher sentence, such as jail; and it may also result in a finding of criminal contempt of court, which can itself become a separate and additional charge with additional penalties.
REDUCTION IN SENTENCE REQUESTED
On Wednesday, May 2, Rachel Kennedy and Sandra Vasquez again appeared before Judge Samuels, with Attorney Decio Rangel representing both at this hearing. He provided the judge with proof that each had completed 120 hours of community labor and 16 of the 48 hours of animal-cruelty counseling. He also advised the court that the entire $7,211 restitution payment had been made.
Attorney Rangel then requested the judge consider reducing the total number of hours of Cal-Trans community labor from 480 to 240. However, Judge Samuels politely declined, stating that Kennedy and Vasquez would each be required to complete both the labor hours and all the animal-cruelty counseling.
Judge Samuels advised the convicted women to "keep up the good work" and complete the 32 remaining hours of counseling and report back to her in Van Nuys Superior Courthouse West, Dept. 112, on September 12, 2018.
RACHEL KENNEDY’S FRIENDS AND CRITICS
Some Los Angeles activists claim that LA Animal Services realized Kennedy had too many animals and continued to encourage her to take more old and sick pets to lower the City shelters' population and achieve Mayor Eric Garcetti and Brenda Barnette's goal of "No Kill."
At the sentencing hearing, Judge Samuels stated, “In reading the letters from people who support you, it is clear that there are many people who think your love of animals is noble and some of the people recommend to give the animals back. There is no way that those animals should go back to you. They [the letters] were obviously written by people who didn't understand the situation when these animals were taken.”
Rachel Kennedy is also not without bitter detractors in the animal-rescue world. A long-standing Facebook page, The Truth Behind Un-Lucky Puppy, contains comments which accuse Kennedy of hoarding, describe her conduct toward other rescuers disparagingly, and accuse her of threatening.
Also, there is a posed glamour photo (posted July 22, 2016) of Rachel Kennedy in bed, covered by a bright red satin sheet and surrounded by approximately 15 small dogs -- plus other photos and accusations which apparently have not been ordered removed.
Kennedy’s adult-film career as “Rachel Elizabeth” is not a secret. She has listed her profession as "actress" and also claims to be a former model. Films in which she starred or is credited with writing or directing circa 2003 – 2007 are listed on IMDb with photos, and are easily available on the Internet, including Amazon, with ads for the DVD’s also on Google.
BACKGROUND OF LUCKY PUPPY
Before the December 8, 2012, "red carpet opening" at 12238 Ventura Blvd in Studio City, well-known pet communicator Melissa Bacelar told LA Splash magazine that she and her partner, Rachel Kennedy, both had the same dream, "A store where the dogs were not from puppy mills and amazing things for the people who adopted our dogs." She did not deny that the store would have purebred dogs or puppies, claiming that "many people still want pure breeds and better they get them from us than from a puppy mill where the guarantee of the health of the animal is in question."
However, on January 2, 2014, when the Tolucan Times ran a cover page, "Go to Your Happy Place in 2014 … at Lucky Puppy Rescue & Retail," only Rachel Kennedy was featured in photos with two dogs and the caption, "Who Rescued Who?" This article describes Lucky Puppy as, "...the first and ONLY of its kind that is a 100% non-profit Rescue Shelter AND Retail Store."
This was the new business-model enabled by L.A. Councilman Paul Koretz’ “puppy-mill” pet shop ban, which allows rescues which partner with shelters/humane societies to obtain/sell animals from unlimited sources, including dogs/puppies 'rescued' from puppy mills.
According to GuideStar, Lucky Puppy Animal Rescue, North Hollywood, CA, started in 2011, and the most current annual record shows Gross Receipts of $598,088, and Assets of $56,990.
LUCKY PUPPY RESCUE RANCH FOR THE "UNADOPTABLES?"
Rachel Kennedy has never cited any professional background, training or experience in animal care, nor any significant public presence in the rescue world prior to opening Lucky Puppy Retail Rescue. She told The Tolucan that she had been rescuing animals for about three years before she planned a Retail Rescue store.
However, on May 30, 2017, in a very comprehensive article by MEL magazine, “Dead by the Sword of the Former Red Power Ranger,”Kennedy described her plans in 2015 to expand her non-profit business into a ranch for "unadoptables" -- dogs with terminal illnesses or serious behavior problem.
That had resulted in the deadly decision to ask Richard Medina, former Power Ranger actor, to live at the property she had leased in a remote area of San Francisquito Canyon in Palmdale, and help her brother, Joshua Sutter, maintain it and care for the "dozens of dogs" that were already there.
ENTRUSTING THE LIVES OF 'RESCUED' DOGS
Kennedy says in the MEL Magazinearticle that she had met Medina on an on-line dating site and they discovered their mutual love for dogs. “The first meeting was great,” Kennedy told writer Cole Kazdin. “We just talked about dogs—dogs, dogs, dogs, dogs. He couldn’t have been more perfect for me.”
But during their second date, she said Medina made a comment about dating younger women, which she found “inappropriate” because she was older than him, and that ended any thoughts of romantic involvement for her. But she soon invited Medina to live rent-free to do maintenance and repair and help care for the dogs. She said she even put his name on the lease.
However, once Medina moved in, Kennedy said his demeanor changed. “He’s the kind of person you know not to cross the line with,” Kennedy said. “Even though he [seemed] super-sweet and kind, I knew better than to even knock on his door because I got this sense...that he would just lose his mind.”
She also told Kazdin that, when she asked him to move out, Medina "became angry and threatened to release the dogs into the woods and let them be eaten by coyotes."
Then. on January 31, 2015, Joshua Sutter and Medina allegedly got into an argument and physical altercation over Medina's girlfriend being at the ranch, and Medina stabbed Sutter with a 30-inch sword, which he claimed was in self-defense. Medina was released following three days in jail after authorities said they did not have enough evidence to prove he committed a murder.
After that, Kennedy said she went back to the ranch and brought the dogs to her home in Studio City.
In March 2017, after Kennedy had pursued a closer investigation of the circumstances surrounding her brother's death, Medina pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and agreed to a six-year sentence, which will likely result in a much shorter prison term, with reductions for good behavior and time served.
However, in May 2016, Kennedy claims someone reported her to animal control for hoarding, and animal abuse charges were brought. She said she thought the "social-media thing" that started after that was mainly Medina’s fans and supporters who believed her brother was the attempted murderer and saw Medina as a hero.
Kennedy said they created "fake social media pages for her, calling her an animal abuser and a porn star." (Kazdin explains that Kennedy told her she had posed for Playboy back in the day but has never done porn.") However, the pressure caused her to close her personal social-media accounts and retreat from the world.
IN PRAISE OF DENYING A REDUCED SENTENCE
Judge Shellie Samuel's should be commended for her decision not to reduce the sentence in regard to animal-cruelty counseling and community labor. Let's hope her continued vigilance results in real soul-searching so Rachel Kennedy and Sandra Vasquez aren't part of the nearly 100% recidivism rate for hoarders.
It is also clear that LA Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette needs to review her policies and take more responsibility for the well-being of the homeless pets who enter (and leave) City shelters and depend upon her to make sound decisions about their future and their safety.
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.