St. CLAIRSVILLE A case of animal cruelty was closed this past Tuesday when 41 counts of cruelty to animals were dismissed for lack of evidence. The charges had been pressed against Carmen and Christopher Wallace after the Belmont County Animal Shelter removed 41 animals from their shelter on the grounds of unhealthy conditions.
The case began under Judge Harry White, now retired, and concluded under Judge Eric Costine.
The Wallaces expressed dissatisfaction about the conduct of the animal shelter during the affair.
"I am very outraged," Carmen Wallace said. She also said the shelter had been ordered to return a horse and two dogs to her, but all of the animals had either been placed with other owners or euthanized. She said it was improper to place the animals before the trial was complete. She added that some of the animals taken and adopted out were tenant animals belonging to others. "They did not follow proper protocol."
Wallace said she has been subject to harassment and rumor campaigns in the previous months. She said the conditions were not as bad as they had been made out to be and that they had been attempting to be classified as a non-profit shelter. Wallace added that she would like a public apology from the Belmont County Animal Shelter.
Verna Painter, shelter supervisor and dog warden, does not consider the dismissal to be an exoneration of the Wallaces. She said White had suppressed the evidence gathered due to issues with the search warrant.
Painter said a signed search warrant never reached the judge's office after it was issued to the shelter. Painter said the shelter was broken into and the humane officer's truck was stolen, and during that time the paperwork related to the Wallace case went missing. Painter said questions were also raised about the way they gathered evidence.
She said 31 dogs, a horse, eight cats, five snakes, a catfish and numerous other fish were removed from the premises.
"We did our job. We did a good job. The animals were all saved and the bad thing was (Wallace) was not held accountable for her actions," Painter said, adding that eight or nine dogs were euthanized. "There had to be a few euthanized because of aggression. We are not capable and do not have the facility to handle aggressive animals long term."
Painter said questions of whether animals were to be returned to the Wallaces were raised in the negotiation stage and that the county shelter was opposed.
"No one formally told me to return animals," she said.
Painter said the shelter had little choice except to place the animals.
"Most of the time, we don't place animals when there is a pending investigation or prosecution, but our organization has 30 cages that hold large dogs. We removed 31 dogs. To house them for 15 months we would have had to euthanize every dog came through doors. We weren't willing to do that."
Painter said the owners of the tenant animals would not have been able to take their dogs back. The Wallaces had been caring for animals on behalf of people who could not keep pets due to their locations.
"We talked to a few who were paying her to board their animals and they were appalled that they were being in those conditions," Painter said. "They understood we were going to place their pets."
She added that the Wallaces were classified as owner/keeper/harbor.
"She carried a kennel license. As far as I'm concerned, she was the owner," Painter said.
The animals were removed from the Neffs area shelter October 2011. Painter said the conditions were deplorable and included crated dogs in the basement, dogs in locked rooms with no light, cages filled with feces and urine, a birthing bed infested with maggots, and filthy water in the fish tanks.
"I'm feeling very guilty that the Wallaces were not held accountable for the actions that they did with these animals," Painter said. "If I had to do it again, I'd do it."
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