A Colorado pet owner accused of abusing or neglecting his animals will most likely lose those animals -- whether he's guilty or not.
That's what happened to Bill Lee, a mall Santa whose reindeer were seized and whose story we told in our feature "Santa is Grounded." And the same scenario looms before Linda Robbins, who has at least temporarily lost custody of her fifteen Lhasa Apso dogs even though she was acquitted of animal cruelty in Greeley last week.
Robbins, a 62-year-old retail clerk, was staying with friends in Greeley this past August after losing her rental home in Englewood because of that city's limit on the number of pets an owner can keep, says Elizabeth Lamb Kearney, Robbins's lawyer. Greeley is more animal-friendly and Robbins was trying to find a home there.
In the meantime, she rented a van to transport her fifteen Lhasa Apsos, Kearney says. Robbins doted on the dogs, cooking them homemade food and grooming them frequently. She'd started with just two dogs, a male and a female she bought from a breeder nine years ago. The pair had two litters and Robbins was unable to place all of the puppies, though she says she had several homes lined up when the dogs were seized.
"I miss my dogs," Robbins says. "Try to picture someone taking your children. In a lot of ways, that's what this is. They're like your family."
On August 4, Robbins took her dogs to a park. When she returned to the apartment building where she was staying with a friend, she went inside to get the dogs some water. An animal control officer was waiting for her when she came out. A man walking his own dog had heard barking coming from Robbins's van and called the police. The animal control officer told Robbins it was illegal to keep dogs in an unattended vehicle and handed her a ticket for fifteen counts of illegal confinement and fifteen counts of neglect.
But that wasn't the last of it.
Five days later, Robbins took five of her dogs to a groomer. Due to her living situation, she hadn't been able to keep up with her regular grooming schedule and the dogs had developed mats in their fur. When she went to pick them up and pay her $200 bill, the animal control officer was there and served Robbins with another five counts of neglect.
On August 14, Robbins was on her way to Denver with the dogs when she was pulled over by the Greeley police. Kearney says they held Robbins on the side of the road for fifty minutes in 90-degree heat and then charged her again with illegally confining and neglecting her animals. This time, they seized all fifteen dogs.
The dogs were taken to the Weld County Humane Society. Robbins was told that in order to keep custody of them during the court case, she'd have to pay $375 per day, which works out to $11,250 per month.
At first, Robbins tried to fight the bond payment and the charges on her own, without a lawyer. But she wasn't successful. When she couldn't pay the bond, she lost ownership of her animals. She eventually hired Kearney, who persuaded the Greeley Municipal Court to drop the charges related to the traffic stop because the cops had no probable cause to pull Robbins over in the first place. It's not illegal to drive with dogs in the car, and furthermore, Robbins had the windows cracked and the air conditioning on.
Last week, Robbins stood trial on the rest of the charges. A jury took just one hour to find her not guilty. But though she was acquitted, her animals weren't returned to her.
Recent changes to the state animal cruelty law allow an animal owner to be refunded the bond costs if the owner is found not guilty. But Robbins never paid any bond and what's more, she was charged under Greeley's municipal statute, not state law.
With Kearney's help, Robbins is now fighting to get her animals back. Three of her dogs died in the shelter, a sad turn of events that Robbins credits to substandard care. As far as she knows, nine others have been adopted and three remain at the shelter.
"I will get my dogs back," Robbins says. "I'm not leaving here until I do. ... They should never have been adopted out to begin with. I'm not guilty of anything."
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More from our Follow That Story archive: "Commerce City Police dog shooting: Owner devastated, confused by pit bull label."Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org