Flagler County Judge Andrea Totten today ordered the permanent confiscation of six dogs from a Bunnell resident and will consider banning the resident from ever owning dogs again after eight dogs had to be removed from her property in April for being severely neglected, malnourished, sick, and showing signs of old and new injuries.
“I do find that Charles Hall has failed to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that she is able and fit to have custody of and adequately care for the animals,” Totten said, announcing her ruling just before noon.
One of the eight, Mama, has since died, but not necessarily from the neglect, a veterinarian said. Another, Red, did not belong to Hall, who said she had no claim on him.
Charles Lashay Hall, 38, who has owned the property at 503 East Booe Street with her cousin since 2004, was declared unable and unfit to adequately provide for the animals. Her cousin was named as a defendant in the court petition. But the cousin does not live at the property nor does she have a close relationship with Hall. No action was taken against her. She nevertheless testified that had she had a relationship with Hall, she might have helped care for the dogs.
Hall said she had no choice but to take responsibility for much of the conditions in which they were found, but she said the situation was out of her control: She was in jail in Santa Rosa County for 40 days at the time the dogs were seized. It was never made clear how the dogs were cared for in her absence, if at all, or by whom. “I tried to make the best decision,” Hall said. “And apparently it wasn’t the best decision. But I’m here, I’m out here right now, willing to take responsibility for my dogs,” she told the judge this morning, toward the end of a two-hour hearing.
“I believe we’ve heard from multiple doctors that this isn’t just a 40-day issue,” John Cary, the attorney representing Bunnell, told the judge in his summation, after three veterinary physicians who had either cared for the dogs or conducted a necropsy, in one case, had testified. “This is a long term problem for the animals where they’ve been mistreated malnourished and neglected.
The judge acknowledged that Hall had been incarcerated and had limited means to care for the dogs at the time, but didn’t buy the excuse that there were no means and accepted Cary’s argument. “It was her responsibility to arrange for adequate care for the dogs, that’s what you would expect the dog owner to do,” Totten said, citing law and speaking with deliberate precision. “A reasonable person, if they didn’t have anyone else to care for the dogs, would have reached out to the Humane Society, based on Ms. Hall’s testimony she clearly had a some sort of relationship with the Humane Society, was with familiar, said that she’d surrendered dogs there before, obviously knew that that was an agency that you could turn to for help if you’re unable to care for your animals. But she chose not to avail herself of that opportunity, and instead the dogs languished in extremely poor conditions for the entire time Ms. Hall was in jail.”
Hall does not face criminal charges. It was a civil case brought by the City of Bunnell. The city and Flagler Humane Society were seeking to prevent Hall from reclaiming the dogs or ever owning dogs again and are hoping to recover thousands of dollars in veterinary and boarding bills, though Bunnell government has agreed to pay the lion’s share of those (just under $9,000), while still expecting reimbursement.
Wade Vose, the Bunnell City Commission’s attorney, told commissioners at their last meeting that there may be a lien on Hall’s property.
Since the eight dogs were seized, they have run up $5,935.76 in veterinary care and $9,150 in boarding costs as of last week. Some additional costs may have been run up by today’s hearing. Charles Hall is expected to pay the bills, but she said other than some form of payment plan, she doesn’t have the money. Totten said she will consider the reasonableness of the costs in a subsequent hearing.
Hall, representing herself in this morning’s hearing, said she did what she could from jail to ensure that the dogs were provided for, but disagreed with assessments by veterinarians that the dogs had been neglected other than the time when she was in jail. Santa Rosa County jail records show Hall was booked there from March 9 through April 14 this year, on a probation violation.
Kimberly Niessen, a veterinary physician at Flagler Animal Hospital, attributed several conditions to neglect of longer date than just 40 days. “Those are conditions that take a long time to manifest themselves,” Niessen said.
It started on April 5. Bunnell Animal Control got a call that two chained dogs at 503 East Booe Street were fighting. The Humane Society’s Amy Carotenuto and a Bunnell police officer went to the property that day, and the next were also joined by Dawn Morton, an animal control officer.
“Two of the dogs had no shelter, none of the dogs had a clean environment to lay down in,” Carotenuto testified. One dog’s face was infected, his ears were infected, had “lots of swelling,” evidence of fighting. “The dog named red had no shelter whatsoever, and the dog named Spike had no shelter whatsoever.” Mama was thin, chained, had no water. Her chain was kinked and thick with grime around her neck, “quite tight, and she had tangled it up such that she couldn’t get very far. I don’t think she could reach her shelter the way she was tangled up that day.”
There were six dogs outside, two inside.
Naming the dogs’ names, Morton described Fugitive as emaciated, showing ribs, his face swollen, with active pus coming from his wounds and discharge from the ears. “The feces that I did observe in there were almost completely rock hard. Some of them also had mold growing on them,” Morton said.
“Okay, so that could have happened in 40 days, right, because,” Charles Hall said, “I was gone, I was in Santa Rosa County for 40 days.”
Rusty was “minimally responsive” when William Tyler Pelfrey, the emergency veterinarian, took care of him at Flagler Animal Hospital, arriving there severely undernourished. “If Rusty was underweight to begin with, he could get to that body condition within 40 days,” Pelfrey said. Rusty’s teeth were worn. “It didn’t look like normal wear to me, it looked like an animal that exhibits neurotic behavior, constant chewing, and there were broken teeth. What that came from, I don’t know whether it’s trauma, whether it’s fighting. I can’t speak for that.” But the veterinarian said it was possible that the dog had been chewing on metal.
Mama was undernourished, had flees, her teeth were worn, her vulva was bleeding, her muscle mass “wasn’t healthy muscle tissue, it was more bone and skin than muscle tissue,” Pelfrey said. She was diagnosed with malnutrition, heartworm disease, hookworms and tapeworms, and had old wounds. Hookworms are an indication of a dirty environment.
Hall became frustrated many times during the hearing from not understanding the proper way to ask questions rather than make statements. Totten attempted, patiently–as judges in such cases often have to with defendants representing themselves–to explain when she could address the court and when she could ask questions of witnesses, but Hall didn’t catch on. She had no witnesses of her own to call “because I’m basically out here by myself, trying to defend myself,” she told the judge. So she ended up addressing the court on her behalf in an attempt to refuse the case against her.
She said she went to court in Santa Rosa County in March, never knowing that she would end up in jail. A few days after she was incarcerated, she found out her dogs had been seized. She was “really emotional” in jail from what she described as having a “mini-stroke” in jail. “I tried to make the best decisions for them, from jail. Nobody is going to take care of your dogs the way you do.” She said she would never leave her dogs in the sort of conditions animal control officials found them. “When I called home, it was, like, oh the dogs are fine, the dogs are fine.” It was never explained who she’d call.
The judge’s order means the dogs–Red, Debow, Titi, Spike, Major, Rusty and Fugue–are now all the property of the Flagler Humane Society. With the exception of Mama, the dogs have recovered.
Totten said her written order, to be handed down in the near future, will include her decision on whether to allow Hall ever to have ownership of dogs in the future.