Jurors have determined that the dogs seized from the Alpha Tex kennel near Lockney were not treated cruelly. As a result, the owners will get their dogs back.
Mark, Sandra and Cory Smith couldn't hold back their tears after the six jurors unanimously voted the dogs had not been cruelly treated. "Happy. We're just happy," cried Sandra. "Our lives have been ripped apart," Mark said barely audible as he choked up.
The fate of the dogs has been unknown for the last four months. During an initial trial A Floyd County Justice of the Peace ruled the dogs were cruelly treated, and the Humane Society of West Texas was given custody of the nearly 200 dogs.
Starting Tuesday the appeal trial began in Randall County. Four days later, it took jurors less than an hour to hand down their verdict.
"I wasn't surprised," said the Smith's attorney Paul Holloway. "I thought they'd come back quick, I thought we were ahead."
The defense made a strong case, saying the State only showed jurors a small portion of the kennels and the dogs they felt were injured or cruelly treated. Holloway says out of the 196 dogs jurors only saw six pictures of injured dogs. He says that's only three percent of the dogs seized. Holloway told jurors "looks can be deceiving" and what the State showed was not the overall conditions of the kennels.
The State's attorney Donald Feare rigorously fought for the dogs, saying there was "clear proof" the dogs were denied clean water, food and shelter. "My position is not theirs," said Feare about the jurors' decision. "They are a jury; I respect that. It's a system that works well. It just didn't come out the way I thought it should."
During Friday's testimony Holloway painted a timeline for the jurors beginning in January of 2011 and ending the day of the seizure on September 28th. He told jurors Mark Smith became injured in April and it limited his ability to work with the dogs.
Mark took the stand addressing several problems Feare had brought up to the jurors. Multiple times during the defense's questioning Mark choked up and began to cry as he talked about the dogs.
He told jurors he was "heartbroken" when he found out three of his dogs were euthanized the day of the seizure on September 28th. He says one of the dogs, Morgan, was kicked by a horse earlier in the year, breaking the dog's leg. Mark said he took the dog to the vet and a pin was put in Morgan's leg, and that she was getting better.
He also gave explanations for the other two that were euthanized without his permission. One was a collie who appeared to have mange with much of its hair gone. However the dog had a thyroid problem – not mange. The other was a puppy whose leg was injured after running through a fence. Mark said that puppy was also getting better.
"I was in a state of shock," said Mark on the stand as he talked about the day of the seizure.
On the States side, veterinarian Shelli Wolfe told jurors 50% of the Alpha Tex dogs tested positive for diseases like heartworms, and that seven of eight puppies she treated died.
Firing back, the defense called another kennel owner who said it's not uncommon to have intestinal disease in kennels of this size. That same witness says she had never known the Smiths prior to September until she called them wanting to buy a dog. That same day she visited the kennels and testified that she and her husband, a police officer of 25 years, saw nothing of concern with the dogs or kennels.
In a fierce battle over the welfare of the dogs, the intense debate finally came to an end around 5:15p.m. on Friday. The Smiths will still have to wait a while before getting the dogs back, because they've been fostered out all across the state.
"We'd like to thank the fosters…" cried Mark unable to finish his sentence. "the foster families for taking care of the dogs because I know they're really taking good care of them, and we appreciate that," finish Sandra.
The two attorneys will get together at a later date to determine how the dogs will be returned to the kennels.
Copyright 2012 KCBD NewsChannel 11