ANIMAL WATCH-Two Los Angeles animal rescuers were sentenced on Friday by Superior Court Judge Shellie Samuels after each was found guilty on one count of animal abuse and two counts of negligence. LA Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette issued a media release on August 23, 2017, announcing, “LA Animal Services investigation leads to animal cruelty conviction for Lucky Puppy Rescue owners." However, the two-week jury trial for Rachel Kennedy and Sandra Vasquez actually ended on August 16.
The charges resulted from the May 6, 2016 raid of Lucky Puppy, alleged to be the first upscale Rescue-Retail shop in a highly visible commercial location under a 2012 ordinance related to Councilman Paul Koretz' LA "puppy-mill" pet shop ban.
LAAS officers found 68 dogs and three cats being maintained inside Kennedy's residence in Studio City under conditions that "were deplorable,” according to the media release.
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 achieve Mayor Eric Garcetti and Brenda Barnette's public illusion that City shelters are almost "no kill."
According to LAAS, officers seized additional animals after "the judge ordered the defendants to remove more dogs and cats, which they have amassed at their new residence in Northridge since the seizure."
According to GuideStar, Lucky Puppy Animal Rescue, North Hollywood, CA, started in 2011, and the current record shows Gross Receipts of $598,088, and Assets of $56,990.
For more on this case, read, Lucky Puppy Rescue in L.A. Found Guilty of Animal Abuse, Neglect Charges - Did the 'System' Betray Her?
LUCKY PUPPY RESCUERS' SENTENCING
(Disclaimer: The following are excerpts from notes taken at the hearing. This is not intended to provide an exact transcript of comments but merely to provide a sense of what occurred. An official transcript can be obtained through the court.)
The hearing was held at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 29, at the Van Nuys Courthouse, 14400 Erwin St, Van Nuys, CA 91401, in Dept. 121.
Judge Shellie Samuels addressed defendants Rachel Kennedy and Sandra Vasquez, stating, “I can tell you that in watching the tapes and listening to the evidence, it was very disturbing to see how far afield someone can go from what their initial purposes was. I do not believe that you set out to harm animals or that it was your purpose, but I think it got completely out of control to the point where you were harming animals and to the point it became cruelty.
"Part of the sentence is that you be without animals through the term of probation and that you do what is ordered by the court, and perhaps sometime in the future you can have animals, but not as part of your life for the next three years.”
She added that the defendants will be subject to search and seizure of their residence, and she said, “If you violate probation, you can go to jail.”
She also told them that by completing mandatory counseling they may someday develop a “healthy relationship with animals and the shelters.”
Judge Samuels also 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.”
JANET HONG, Attorney for Rachel Kennedy, stated, “I think one important thing is that our client's heart is in the right place. She ran a 50l(c)3 for two years and adopted out 1,400 dogs. She has dedicated her life to helping animals. Most of the dogs came from shelters and were very sick and old and one was blind.” She added that her client had set up a fund for old and sick dogs for care during their last days and that these are dogs that would have been euthanized by the shelters. She said her client had spent over $100,000 for veterinary care and was following the instructions of her veterinarian, Dr. Schwartz.
Judge Samuels responded that it was her recollection the care--or lack of care--by Dr. Schwartz was a point in the case.
Attorney Hong continued that the dog who was the subject of the cruelty count was receiving insulin at the time of seizure but it was the wrong insulin, prescribed by Dr. Schwartz. She argued that her client was following the instructions of the veterinarian and that none of the dogs were dehydrated or starving.
GARY GOODMAN, who identified himself as a friend of Rachel Kennedy, read a statement praising her for taking dogs from local high-kill shelters and successfully running Lucky Puppy for over two years. He said he had spent time with her and has known Rachel and Sandra to serve in dedication. He concluded, “She cared too much and tried too hard."
DON KLEIN, who also identified himself as a friend, said he was present to vouch for the character of Rachel Kennedy. He commended her dedication to finding homes for dogs and said that she was the president of Lucky Puppy, which is 100% non-profit. "Rachel has never kept money for herself but spent it to restore animals to health. I wish the City had more altruistic people like Rachel Kennedy," he said. He likened Ms. Kennedy’s actions to that of the Dutch family which harbored Anne Frank during World War II and stated that, because of Rachel Kennedy, lives were saved. He declared that Ms. Kennedy will never again attempt to be the savior of the number of dogs she tried to save and urged the court to make her sentence “light.”
RACHEL KENNEDY, Defendant, described herself as the president of Lucky Puppy, which is 100% non-profit, and worked with city and county shelters to help animals destined for euthanasia. (At this point she began to cry.) She told the court that she had never abused any animals and had devoted her life to them and her community.
DECIO RANGEL, Attorney for Sandra Vasquez, stated his client’s "intent was positive.” He said that she and Ms. Kennedy were, "trying to take care of too many animals but the goodness of their hearts was the cause.” He described that, in 2013, Sandra Vasquez became a volunteer for Lucky Puppy and that “became a purpose for her life,” and “everything she did was devoted to kindness. She wanted to do the right thing and what was morally correct." He described her devotion to each dog she cared for and said, “Having them taken away to shelters is an unfair punishment for these ladies.” He concluded, “Just having the animal cruelty charge is an incredible punishment for Ms. Vasquez.”
SANDRA VASQUEZ, Defendant, talked about her time at Lucky Puppy, stating that since she came to Lucky Puppy in 2013 she never lost sight of the need to help every homeless pet and to see that they had a good life. She said, "From the humane aspect, this was a safe place to allow people to enjoy puppy love." She lamented loss of the opportunity to continue that education. She told Judge Samuels she knows it is her duty to uphold the law but, “…with all our hearts, we will continue to care."
DON COCEK, Prosecutor/ Deputy City Attorney, stated that the L. Animal Services personnel who were at the Studio City residence of Rachel Kennedy described the inside of the house as, “a sewer, with the floors covered with urine and feces,” and that they, “could not breathe inside the building because of the unbearable smell of ammonia.” He said that the heightened potency of the toxic odor for the animals who were on the floor, compared to those who were standing five to six feet higher—"was horrific and subjected them to intolerable suffering."
"The defendants' hearts were not in the right place," he said, and explained, "the dog that needed insulin was dying. They knew it was, and the dog would have ended up in the trash can." He said another dog, named “Beauty,” needed daily cleaning for a red, badly infected, crusted eye, and the veterinarian who examined her said her eyes had not been wiped for days. The lack of care had caused the dog "indescribable suffering," he told the court.
"They have not said they are sorry," he emphasized. "They are sorry about what happened and the fact that Lucky Puppy was closed down, but they have never said they were sorry for what happened inside that house. People that sent letters were not in that house. Had they seen what those officers saw, they would not have been writing those types of letters."
"These people do not deserve any sympathy," he concluded.
JUDGE SHELLIE SAMUELS stated, "The defendants have branded themselves as some kind of saviors, and Mr. Klein compared them to the family in WW II which gave sanctuary to Anne Frank. I cannot agree with that. These ladies cared about animals but had no idea of how to take care of them. The suffering of these animals was horrendous and they [the defendants] are getting off easy."
"The fact that they cannot have animals is the best thing that ever happened to these animals. The conditions the animals were made to live in were horrendous and beyond belief."
Judge Samuels said she had received many letters in support of the defendant and her efforts to rescue shelter animals. "There is no way these people could write letters like they did if they had been in that house."
"Seeing the sickness of these animals and the conditions of their eyes and ears, with feces stuck to their fur and legs, I am not going to buy how misunderstood they are. They got in over their heads and were unable to care for these animals."
"I believe the sentence is appropriate and kind in this case. I have no sympathy for these ladies."
SENTENCING (and comments):
RACHEL KENNEDY and SANDRA VASQUEZ - Sentence for Count 1 (animal abuse) -violation of CA PC § 597(b); Count 2 (animal neglect) - violation of CA PC § 597.1(a); and Count 3 (animal neglect) - violation of CA PC § 597.1.(a)
Suspended sentence. Summary probation for 36 months.
60 days of Cal-Trans community labor. (May not substitute community service nor perform any activities that involve animals.) If community labor is not done or not completed, jail time will be mandatory for the incomplete period.
180 days in County jail, will be stayed unless there is a violation of terms of probation.
Provide LA Animal Services with current and any updated address. (Search and seizure by animal control officers or humane officers may be conducted at anytime 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. 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 November 28 hearing.
Each defendant to pay court fees and fines.
Thirty- day appeal period.
CHECK LA COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT CRIMINAL CASE NO. 6VW06330 for exact wording and further information. The official sentencing decision had not yet been entered at time of writing this article.
(Note: A request was sent to both defense attorneys on Friday evening, Sept. 29, to provide them an opportunity to comment on the sentencing and/or make any other statement for this article. No response was received by the time of submission.)
LUCKY PUPPY RESCUE - HOARDING?
Although officers found 68 dogs and three cats in her home during the seizure in 2016, LA Animal Services has not mentioned "hoarding" in regard to Rachel Kennedy or Sandra Vasquez--focusing, rather, only on the conditions of the animals. One supporter of Lucky Puppy has commented at LAAS Commission meetings that Animal Services gave Rachel Kennedy "almost twenty" dogs just a week before the search and arrests, and that has not been denied publicly by GM Barnette. Could that have influenced the decision to overlook "hoarding" as a factor in this case?
Anyone who has "rescued" animals or just has normal sensibilities knows that maintaining over 70 dogs and cats in one house is hoarding; and, without caging and constant cleaning, would inevitably result in the horrific unsanitary and toxic conditions described by the officers.
It does not appear that Rachel Kennedy caged the Lucky Puppy dogs. In fact, an easily accessible glamour photo on Facebook shows her lying in a bed with at least 15 dogs of various sizes.
THE IMPORTANCE OF JUDGE SHELLIE SAMUELS' DECISION
The decisions of judges in animal cruelty cases are extremely important in setting and enforcing standards for humane treatment and deserve media attention. Until recently, the excuse for not prosecuting heinous crimes against animals was the claim that judges do not take animal abuse seriously.
That is changing, and Judge Samuels' thoughtful and compassionate decision demonstrates her understanding that maintaining too many animals is a problem which can result in cruelty, neglect and suffering on its own--regardless of good intentions.
There are politicians, lawmakers and major humane organizations that gain national publicity and massive donor funding for their efforts against the cruelty of puppy mills but excuse the filth and excruciating suffering of animals hoarded in the "no kill" movement on the justification that a well-intentioned animal rescuer merely became “overwhelmed.”
Responsible, capable rescuers use their head as much as their heart and do not allow themselves to become chronically overwhelmed.
Hoarding is not just an issue of numbers of animals. It is a lack of sound judgment and the inability to reasonably and humanely care for them, as Judge Shellie Samuels opined in the case of Rachel Kennedy and Sandra Vasquez (formerly, Lucky Puppy Rescue.)
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
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