When animals are rescued from inhumane conditions or neglectful owners, the Special Prosecutions Unit of the County Attorney's Office represents the state in a civil forfeiture hearing. Upon a showing of evidence that the animals have been cruelly treated, a Justice of the Peace or Civil Court Judge will award custody of the animals to the HSPCA and award a monetary judgment for their care.
The Harris County Attorney's Office has participated in a number of recent large scale animal cruelty cases. In September 2009, the County was successful in securing the rights of possession of 1,009 animals rescued from a backyard breeder in Northwest Houston. A variety of snakes, turtles, hamsters, and birds were found living in flithy and rat infested conditions. The sick and injured animals were turned over to the HSPCA to be treated, cared for, and adopted out to new homes.
In November 2010, the Harris County Attorney's Office was successful in protecting 1,077 animals seized from inhumane conditions. Two local breeders were divested of birds, dogs, hamsters, and rabbits that were neglected, cruelly confined, and deprived of food, water, and shelter. After a lengthy appeal, a jury found in favor of the County and the animals were awarded to the HSPCA.
UPDATE: Linda Geffin, Chief of the Special Prosecutions Unit along with Mimi Han, Assistant County Attorney and expert witness Julie Murad obtained a favorable verdict in the case of 1,077 animals rescued from a home in Highlands, Texas. The jury found that the dogs, hamsters, rabbits, and birds had been cruelly treated and they were granted to the HSPCA. This verdict follows a lengthy appeal from a ruling by Justice of the Peace Armando Rodriguez who found that the animals had been cruelly treated and ordered the owners to pay the HSPCA for medical and housing costs.
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The facts about the Highlands animal rescue
The Harris County Attorney has received questions about recent news articles about the rescue of 1,077 animals from deplorable conditions. Linda S. Geffin, Chief of the Special Prosecutions Unit of Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan’s office, represented the State in the proceedings.
Here are the facts:
1. On August 2, 2010 Judge Armando Rodriguez ruled that 1,077 animals taken from Juan and Berta Gracia in Highlands, Texas had been “cruelly treated and not provided adequate food, water, housing and care by their owners”. Click here to see the judge’s order.
2. The animals included dogs, hamsters, rabbits and birds. Over 1,000 of the animals were birds.
3. The judge’s order followed five days of evidence that included over 200 photographs and testimony from investigators from the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Deputy Constables, and a veterinarian who specializes in exotic animals.
4. The Gracias, although given the opportunity to do so produced no evidence to contradict the facts. The Gracias invoked their Fifth Amendment right to refuse to give testimony that might incriminate them.
5. Two years earlier, the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had visited the location and advised the owners of, among others things, the importance of keeping a constant supply of fresh, clean water available for all of the animals, all of the time.
6. When the HSPCA arrived at the location recently, the house appeared to be abandoned as there was no furniture in the house and the electricity had been turned off.
7. Of the nine dogs seized, seven of them were heartworm positive and all were infested with fleas. One of the dogs had such an advanced condition of heartworms that it had difficulty breathing and was wheezing.
8. Hundreds of birds were in filthy cages, with bird feces encrusted on the sides and bottoms.
9. Hundreds of the birds lacked adequate food and water and in many case, the birds’ water dishes were empty or had a coating of water and algae on the bottom.
10. Linda Geffin, Chief of the Special Prosecutions Section, described the conditions as “horrific.”
Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan supports the rights of legitimate businesses to sell animals, so long as the animals are treated humanely and in accordance with the law. The office of the Harris County Attorney is committed to the protection of animals from abuse and neglect.
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