Dixie Plunkett 38 dogs, 20 birds, 2 cats animals seized from puppymill, 1 puppy found dead

Lamotte Township, MI,

Sanilac County

June 19, 2008
Patrick Plunkett      

Looking through tangled locks of black and white fur, No. 7 didn't want to leave her cage.  Kind words from Sanilac County Humane Society volunteers couldn't persuade the Shi Tzu, and she showed no interest in a dog treat.

"I just found her eyes yesterday," Humane Society Director Carol Schmidt said Tuesday as she eased the animal out of the cage, brushing matted fur from the dog's eyes.

Eventually, No. 7, whose size was masked by tangled mounds of fur, quickly ran between Schmidt's legs and tried to get into a cat's cage. Having spent so much time in a cage, Schmidt said, open spaces make the dog nervous.

The 5-year-old Shi Tzu was one of 38 dogs, 20 birds and 2 cats seized by the Sanilac County Sheriff Department and Sanilac County Animal Control.

          

(Photo's courtesy of the Times Herald)

The animals were taken from the Moore Township residence of Patrick and Dixie Plunkett , a son and mother who said they raised the animals mostly as pets and did not abuse or neglect them.

"We moved out here so she could have all these animals," Patrick Plunkett, 57, said of his 76-year-old mother. "I try to take care of these animals. I grant you it looked like a mess, but I was on my way out there to try and clean it up."

The Plunkett's, who live at 1140 Germania Road, said they haven't been allowed to see the animals and were beginning the process to find a lawyer.

Officials with animal control have sent a report about the seizure to the county prosecutors office, which will determine if the owners of the animals will face criminal charges. Schmidt has taken in most of the dogs, including No. 7, and a couple have been placed in foster homes.

The cats are staying at the Sanilac County Animal Shelter.

"I would label it as a puppy mill. It was definitely a puppy mill," said Schmidt, who followed animal control officers to the scene to help with the seizure.

Officials with animal control and prosecutors are not releasing details about the incident.

The animals were seized after one puppy bought from the property was diagnosed with ringworm and another was diagnosed with parvovirus, a highly contagious, often fatal intestinal virus.

By chance, both of the animals were diagnosed June 18 by Sandusky Animal Clinic Dr. Ann Roberts. Roberts said she realized the puppies were from the same litter, and one of the puppies' owners contacted Sanilac Animal Control.

Because so many animals were removed from the Moore Township property, Schmidt said they've been assigned numbers because Humane Society volunteers couldn't think of enough names.

By Saturday, three of the dogs had died.  Two pug beagle mix puppies died of parvovirus. A cause has not been determined for the death of an older Yorkshire terrier mix.

Sanilac County Assistant Prosecutor Ryan Edberg said he's waiting for a report from a veterinarian who evaluated the animals before deciding on charges.  " ... I'm not sure of the exact number (of animals seized)," he said Tuesday.  Schmidt said all of the animals were evaluated at Town and Country Animal Clinic in Sandusky.

Patrick Plunkett said animal control showed up on the wrong day.  "He said 'This is horrible.' I said 'It's my day to clean.' He said 'You got to clean every day.' I said OK," Plunkett recounted. "I don't clean them every day. I didn't know I had to. I clean them every three or four days."

In his telling, Patrick Plunkett said he is being lied to and his story is being lied about by the animal control officer, who he said was James Matson, the director of the animal control office.

"If some of their hair is matted, hell, they run in a courtyard," he said. "In the report he said I had cages on top of cages. He lied. I have never in my life had cages on top of each other."

And though a puppy was found dead on the property, Plunkett said he didn't know about it until the officer pointed it out.  "It had passed that morning. It was the runt of the litter. Sometimes that happens," he said. "No other dogs died. ... I got no graveyard."

Among the dogs seized are teacup Yorkshire terriers, a pregnant cocker spaniel and Pomeranian, toy poodles, pugs and mixed breeds.

"With the quantity and the way they were kept, it's definitely one of the worst cases I've seen," Schmidt said, adding some of the animals are in better condition than others.

"You see it on "Animal Cops" on TV, but you don't get the true effect until you walk in," Schmidt said of seeing the animals. "It takes your breath away."

The dogs, ranging in age from less than a week old to their teens, were found locked in a bedroom or squeezed together in small crates, Schmidt said. The 20 birds, including cockatiels, finches and a parrot, were in undersized cages, she said.

The majority of the dogs have ringworm, parvovirus and worms, and their fur is caked with feces, Schmidt said.

Many of the cockatiels are bald from being pecked at or are missing claws on their feet from being in the overcrowded cages, Schmidt said.

"The smell in that house," she said, pausing and shaking her head, "was just indescribable."

Schmidt has to get up at 4 a.m. to care for and give medicine to her new brood, but she said the work is worthwhile.  "I will put everything I got into these babies because they're my babies now," she said.

The Sanilac Humane Society is absorbing the cost to care for the animals.

Update 6/26/08:  Outrageous. To subject animals to the appalling conditions local authorities found in a Lamotte Township home is an affront to anyone with even a modicum of compassion.

Yet, 38 dogs, 20 birds and two cats existed in squalor and profound neglect.

Their relief didn't arrive until June 19, the day officers of the Sanilac County Sheriff Department and Animal Control seized them from Patrick and Dixie Plunkett .

Despite the animals' deplorable ordeal, the 57-year-old man and his 76-year-old mother insist their animals weren't abused.

"I try to take care of these animals," Patrick Plunkett said. "I grant you it looked like a mess, but I was on my way out there to try to clean it up."

Dogs, from less than a week old to their teens, were locked in a bedroom or stuffed together in small crates when law enforcement officers raided the Plunkett's home, according to Sanilac County Humane Society Director Carol Schmidt.

Update 6/27/08:  A mother and son in Sanilac County could face up to four years in prison for their treatment of almost 60 animals, according to warrants issued Thursday by the Sanilac County Prosecutors Office.

Patrick Plunkett, 57, of Lamotte Township has been charged with cruelty to 10 or more animals, a felony that, in addition to the prison time, could result in 500 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine.

His mother, Dixie Plunkett , 76, faces the same charge.

A lesser charge of kennel facility violations also was delivered to the Plunkett's A misdemeanor, this charge comes with up to three months' punishment and a $100 fine.

An arraignment date has not been set due to the late time of day the warrants were issued.

The Plunkett's were not arrested when the animals were seized, so it is unlikely they will be jailed before their undetermined court date.

"Since they weren't arrested at the time, they will be given a notice to appear in court," Ryan Edberg, assistant prosecuting attorney, said.

The severity of the punishment stems from a new law that was sponsored by state Rep. John Espinoza, D-Croswell.

That law links the penalty to the amount of animals involved in the case or the number of prior convictions, said Espinoza's legislative aide, Nicole Stallworth.

Since the Plunkett's had more than 10 animals, they face the stiffest sentence.

Just a week after the seizure, three dogs have died but Schmidt said she hopes the rest recover.

"They're doing well. We are starting to groom some of them and we're finding maggots in the mats of their hair," she said. "It's gruesome."

The dogs — a majority of which had ringworms, parvovirus and worms — now are receiving treatment but are not out of the woods yet.

"With parvo they could be here one day and gone the next," she said. "In another week they'll be through that."

Update 6/29/08:  The 60 animals seized from a Sanilac County home June 19 are doing better, but the cost of their care is climbing.

About $6,800 has gone into the care of the 34 dogs being cared for by the Sanilac County Humane Society, director Carol Schmidt said.

"It's definitely putting a hurt on us," said Schmidt, who is keeping all of the animals at her own home.

Many of the animals have ringworm and parvovirus, a highly contagious and often fatal intestinal infection.

"I'm keeping my babies up and running," she said. "In another week we can say they pulled through the parvo, and that will be a miracle."

The animals aren't up for adoption. Schmidt said the court must still place them in the humane society's custody.

Update 7/4/08: The Plunkett's were arraigned and charged by District Judge James A. Marcus with cruelty to 10 or more animals and violating rules for kennel facilities. They were released on $1,000 personal recognizance bonds.

The mother and son are charged as co-defendants and are scheduled for a July 11 preliminary examination in Marcus' Sandusky courtroom.

The Sanilac County Prosecutors Office issued warrants for the Plunkett's June 26, a week after police and animal control officers removed the animals from their home at 1140 Germania Road, Lamotte Township.

The birds and a few dogs are with foster families. The two cats were taken in by the county animal shelter.

Update 7/30/08:  A September 25 trial date has been set for the Plunkett's

Dixie Plunkett said Tuesday that she and her son have done nothing wrong and that lies are being told about how they treated their pets.  "I don't abuse them," she said. "If anything, like my kids, I spoil them."

She said all the animals have names, and they were nervous after the seizure because they were surrounded by strangers.

The animals' conditions have improved dramatically, said Schmidt.

"They no longer roll over and pee all over themselves when you approach them. They're happy, they're groomed," she said. "I still have a few that are a little on the leery side, but most of them are running and playing and just learning what it's like to be a dog."

Schmidt is trying to gain custody of the animals. While she is now their caregiver and guardian, the Plunkett's remain the owners of record, she said.

Earlier this month a forfeiture hearing was scheduled to transfer the animals to Schmidt's care, but the paperwork was misfiled, she said.

A second court appearance on the custody issue is scheduled for August 5th, Schmidt said.

Update 8/13/08:  All but six dogs and a parrot seized from a Lamotte Township home in June soon will be up for adoption.

Carol Schmidt, director of the Sanilac County Humane Society and caregiver to the animals since their seizure, said Patrick and Dixie Plunkett relinquished ownership of most of the animals last week.

The ownership of the six dogs and parrots could change after the trial, Schmidt said.

Within the next two weeks, she hopes to have the animals ready for new homes.  "I am ecstatic to be able to get these babies in homes; to make them permanent homes," Schmidt said. "I'll be sad, you get kind of attached to them, but it will be happy sad to see them go."

All the dogs are current on shots, but need to be tested for heart worm, to be spayed or neutered and to have their teeth cleaned before they are ready for adoption, Schmidt said.

Update 9/16/08:  Patrick Plunkett, 57, and Dixie Plunkett , 76, pleaded no contest last week and will be sentenced October 6th in Sanilac County court.

Patrick Plunkett pleaded no contest to cruelty to 10 or more animals, a felony punishable by up to four years in prison. A misdemeanor charge of failure to obtain a kennel license will be dismissed at sentencing, a court clerk said.

Dixie Plunkett pleaded no contest to failure to obtain a kennel license. Officials will determine if she should face the same felony charge as her son after she serves a sentence for the kennel license violation. The sentence could include three years of probation and paying back the cost of caring for the animals, many of whom were sick, after they were seized.

A no contest plea means a person neither accepts nor denies guilt. It is treated as a guilty plea for sentencing purposes.

With the plea, Dixie Plunkett could have six dogs and one parrot returned to her custody, according to court records. Court records don't explain why the animals may be returned to her custody.

Carol Schmidt, director of the Sanilac County Humane Society who has been caring for the seized animals, said she hasn't been told to return any of the animals.

"I think it would be a horrible injustice for somebody to plead guilty to animal abuse and then get animals back," Schmidt said.

After the animals were seized, the Humane Society assumed ownership of all but six dogs and a parrot after a forfeiture hearing in court. About 20 of the dogs have since been adopted, Schmidt said.

Caring for the animals and nursing them back to health has been demanding, she said. Including boarding, grooming and medical costs, the bill to care for the animals has totaled about $23,000, Schmidt said.

"I really don't see ( Dixie Plunkett ) being able to pay that. ... You know she's old, she's on oxygen, she can't take care of herself, how on earth is she going to be able to take care of six dogs and a parrot?" Schmidt said.

Several dogs can't be put up for adoption because they are still recovering from illnesses, she said.

Update 11/26/08:  The Plunkett's have withdrawn no contest pleas and are asking for a change of venue.

The Plunkett's withdrew their pleas last month after a judge wouldn't agree to the terms of a plea deal reached with the Sanilac County Prosecutor's Office, Dixie Plunkett said. The deal would have returned six dogs and one parrot to them, she said.

The rest of the animals would have been forfeited to the Sanilac County Humane Society, which took them in after they were removed from the Plunkett's home.

Dixie Plunkett said she wants the dogs and the parrot back.  "I love them so much," she said.

A motion hearing for a change of venue is scheduled for Dec. 1 in front of Sanilac County Circuit Judge Donald Teeple.

Plunkett said the public in Sanilac County is biased against her family.  "How do you think we could get a fair trial here?" Dixie Plunkett said. "If I read the garbage that was put in those papers ... I'd hate me too."

A trial is scheduled for Dec. 9 in front of Teeple if the motion for a change of venue is dismissed.

Carol Schmidt, director of the Humane Society, said the majority of the seized animals have been adopted. Four of the six dogs the Plunkett's are trying to get back are in foster care and the people caring for them want to adopt them, she said. The other two dogs also have families interested in providing them a home, Schmidt said. "They are doing fabulous," she said of the animals.

Schmidt said she was "ecstatic" when the judge wouldn't allow the animals to be returned.  "Why would you give animals back after they admitted they did this?" she said. "We're hoping this will actually give the prosecuting attorney an opportunity to ... prosecute these people and not give the animals back."

Update 12/3/08:  The Plunkett's will be sentenced Dec. 22 after pleading no contest on December 1st to animal cruelty charges stemming from a June raid of their Lamotte Township home.

As part of the plea deal, one dog and a parrot will be returned to Dixie Plunkett , 77, and one dog will be given to Plunkett's daughter.

Patrick Plunkett, 57, pleaded no contest to animal cruelty to 10 or more animals. Dixie Plunkett pleaded no contest to animal cruelty to 10 or more animals and operating a kennel without a license.

Patrick Plunkett said he just wanted the case that has lasted nearly six months to be closed.  "It wasn't going nowhere; I mean, it didn't seem to matter," he said. "It just didn't seem to make a difference anymore."

Sanilac County Prosecutor James V. Young said officials decided to return a dog to Dixie because "for 77 years this woman has been a productive and a good citizen for the community."

"We'll keep an eye on her, I guarantee," he said. "There are laws about how you treat animals in your possession. If you don't follow the law, we will come in and prosecute you, but we have to do this with a sense of justice. (Dixie) has always had dogs, always. We decided to give her one."

Dixie Plunkett said losing the animals was "devastating," and she is excited to have a Yorkshire terrier named Gidget returned to her.

Carol Schmidt, director of the Sanilac County Humane Society, isn't as thrilled with the plea deal and hopes Sanilac County Circuit Court Judge Donald Teeple throws it out.

Animal cruelty to 10 or more animals is a felony punishable by up to four years in prison, 500 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine. Operating a kennel without a license is a misdemeanor.

Young said Dixie Plunkett isn't likely to face jail time. She's in a wheelchair and on oxygen, and the jail doesn't have resources for her medical care, he said.

Dixie Plunkett will be on probation for three years as part of the plea agreement.

Update 12/7/08:  Animal lovers in Sanilac County are very concerned about justice for the animals that suffered in the home of the Plunkett's

The Plunkett's now have taken a new plea deal that includes allowing them one dog and one parrot. Their sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 22.

This is the way criminal justice is supposed to work: Those who do wrong should be penalized -- and the punishment is supposed to fit their crimes.

Unfortunately, that's not always the way the system works. In Sanilac County, the case of Dixie and Patrick Plunkett offers a disturbing example.

Despite the severity of the animals' condition, the Plunkett's refused to admit they did anything wrong.

There is no justification for returning any animal to the Plunkett's care. To do so would reward their indefensible conduct and insult the intelligence of anyone opposed to animal cruelty.

The Plunkett's will be sentenced Dec. 22. The hope is Sanilac County Circuit Judge Donald Teeple will reject the plea agreement.

Update 12/30/08:  The Plunkett's were sentenced to serve jail time after pleading no contest to animal cruelty, but only one of them actually will go.

Dixie Plunkett, 77, was sentenced to three years probation and 30 days in jail, but her jail time will not be enforced based on a letter from the jail administrator in regard to her medical condition, according to court records.

Along with her son, Patrick, Dixie Plunkett pleaded no contest to operating a kennel without a license, a misdemeanor, and animal cruelty to 10 or more animals, a felony.

The felony will be dismissed if she successfully completes probation, Deputy County Clerk Lynda Graves said.

The Plunkett's also will have to pay restitution to the Sanilac County Humane Society which has cared for the animals since the seizure.

Cindy Trainor, secretary of the humane society board of directors, said how much was spent on the animals hasn’t been finalized, but it is estimated at about $20,000.

As part of the plea deal, Dixie Plunkett also will have one dog and a parrot returned to her and one dog given to her daughter.

Reference:

The Times Herald