Big legal battle to follow huge puppy farm bust

Police checked on a barking dog complaint at a Waimanalo puppy farm
Police checked on a barking dog complaint at a Waimanalo puppy farm
Keoni Vaughn
Keoni Vaughn
Victor Bakke
Victor Bakke

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's an animal case that brought veterinarians to tears.  More than 150 dogs are getting medical attention as part the huge puppy farm bust in Waimanalo. Some of the images are disturbing but the farm's manager plans to get the dogs back.  He claims officers didn't have proper consent to come on the property.

We first brought you the story back in August with undercover images showing the unhealthy conditions of dogs.  But the Hawaiian Humane Society wasn't able to cite from the video alone. But Monday was a stroke of luck for investigators.  A barking dog complaint came in and two Honolulu Police Officers happened to be down the road on a separate trespassing case.  When they responded to the barking dog call the renter in the front house, not the farm manager, came home and allowed officers on to the property.  That gave the officers a chance to see the conditions first hand which led to the big break in the case.

"We are very relieved we were able to rescue these animals from this horrible situation," said Keoni Vaughn, Hawaiian Humane Society Chief Inspector.

They are getting a closer look at the health of the dogs.  They've found puppies a day old with infections that could cost them a leg or their life.  Other dogs have bad eyes.  A French bulldog had only one eye.  Then there were dogs that had severely matted fur.

Each dog is going through a full medical assessment which has been painful for some to watch.

"I have to say I was in tears last night literally. I've been doing this for 25 years and I don't cry very easily at dogs but it's pathetic. I don't think I've ever seen dogs with so many skin problems," said Sue Palumbo, Veterinarian and Owner of The Cat Clinic.  "Severe neglect, abuse, they're covered in feces, they're matted and almost 100 percent of them have severe dental disease,"

That's the professional opinion from Dr. Palumbo who is volunteering her time to help the cause.

"The females are older females so they probably had numerous litters," said Dr. Palumbo.

But the puppy farms manager, Dave Becker, has a different take on the situation and he's hired an attorney.

"They have not had a single violation in three years, they have not had a noise complaint citation issued in three years," said Victor Bakke, Defense Attorney.

Bakke says the Hawaiian Humane Society will have to prove Becker was intentionally, knowingly and recklessly neglecting the animals, a law Bakke says is extremely vague.  They vow to fight the animal abuse charges, which are misdemeanors, but carry a $2,000 fine and jail time per violation.

"What really bothers us is that after all this time there has been no problem and now there are warrant requirements in the statute that have to be followed and it appears in this case the humane society didn't do any of that," said Bakke. "It's our position we were able to care for those dogs and we expect to get them back."

The Hawaiian Humane Society says cases like this are a prime example why there needs to be a dog breeding law.  One proposal going through the capitol right now would limit the amount of dogs a breeder can have and would also allow investigators full access to farms even without advance permission.  The bill is getting closer to passing.

Bakke says the big bust at the Waimanalo farm is a setup to support the bill and make it difficult for lawmakers to vote against.

"It's our position this was just a big grand standing opportunity for the Humane Society to push their agenda through with the legislature," said Bakke.

As for defending the images of feces and flies in the kennels and the health conditions of the dogs...

"I haven't personally seen the photographs but with 150 animals you will have a percentage of the animals get sick. You have to remember these guys were in the business of keeping these animals. They made money off this so it's not in their interest to have sick animals. They weren't just keeping them around for company," said Bakke.  "Just because a dog has an open wound or open sore doesn't mean they were neglected.  You run into the same problem with elder abuse. People get bed sores, that happens to people even under the best of care."

The last big animal cruelty case was in 2004.  It involved 50 dogs and cost $130,000.  This case could cost triple that amount which could make the legal case even uglier than it already is.

"These animals are not in good condition so it requires additional care in the way of veterinary care, medications, and treatment in order to get the animals stabilized," said Pam Burns, Hawaiian Humane Society President.

Donations have already started coming in.  Kamaaina Termite and Pest Control dropped off 10,000 pounds of dog food tonight.  Petco is also donating whatever the Hawaiian Humane Society needs. Wednesday morning they are supposed to pick up dog food and supplies to bring to the animals at the shelter.

The dogs cannot be adopted because they are part of the criminal investigation and should the farm manager win his defense he would get the dogs back.

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