Clara Vowell 67 dogs, horses, cats & goat seized

Fairbanks, IN

Sullivan County

October 8, 2008

An elderly Sullivan County woman with more than 200 dogs, cats, horses and other animals is being investigated for animal neglect by Indiana State Police in cooperation with the Humane Society of the United States and other agencies.

A Humane Society of the United States representative described the operation as a “puppymill,” defined by the organization as a commercial breeding operation “that puts profit above the health and welfare of the puppies and their parents.”

State Police and several support agencies converged on the northwest Sullivan homestead near Fairbanks.

  (Photo courtesy of the Tribune Star - the elderly woman shields her face as she walks across her property)  The animals’ owner declined to comment to media, and police were not releasing the woman’s name. The investigation continues, and no arrest was made.

State Police followed up after receiving a complaint late last week that the animals were in poor health, underfed and living in squalid conditions, said Sgt. Joe Watts.

Initial reports indicated there were as many as 300 dogs, and early this week, State Police solicited the assistance of the other agencies.

The actual number was about 150 dogs, 35 to 50 cats, 25 to 30 horses and eight to 10 ponies, all of various breeds. “Some of the animals appeared to be living in conditions as initially reported,” according to a State Police news release.


(Photo courtesy of the Tribune Star - rescue personnel and veterinarians evaluate the animals) 

Local veterinarians and members of the HSUS Animal Rescue assessed each animal’s needs and conditions. Those assessments showed that 67 animals were in need of urgent care, Watts said.

Many of the dogs were emaciated and suffered from medical conditions such as open sores, broken limbs and severe skin conditions.

State Police and Humane Society representatives then consulted with the owner, who voluntarily gave up permanent custody of the 67 animals, which were turned over to the HSUS.

The animals — 52 dogs, 10 horses, four cats and one goat — were transported by trucks and trailers to the Sullivan County 4-H Fairgrounds, where an emergency shelter was set up.

Every animal will be assessed by a veterinarian and given any necessary medical attention, then transferred to humane organizations where they will be evaluated and placed for adoption.

State Police went to the scene with search warrants and court paperwork, but the owner was “very cooperative, so we haven’t had to use any of our court paperwork,” Watts said. “She consented to the search.”

Once the investigation is complete, results will be turned over to the Sullivan County prosecutor, Watts said. Violation of Indiana’s animal neglect statute is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a maximum of a $1,000 fine.

Anne Sterling, HSUS Indiana state director, described the operation as a puppymill, or commercial breeding operation.

“We have quite a few commercial breeding facilities in Indiana, and these facilities, unless they are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are not regulated,” Sterling said.

“These folks are not being inspected by any state government agency. They can have as many animals as they choose,” she said. “It’s definitely an issue in Indiana that needs to be addressed.”

She said it’s frustrating because “there is only so much we can do to help.”

In Indiana, if such a breeding operation sells wholesale to pet stores, it should be licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, she said.

But if the operation conducts sales by Internet or along the road, she said it does not have to be licensed. “That’s the gap in Indiana,” she said. Such operations are not regulated or inspected by any agency.

The case was investigated by ISP Detective Tom Hanks, with assistance from other detectives and troopers. Other agencies involved were: the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department; Sullivan County Prosecutor’s Office; Indianapolis Department of Animal Control; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Investigative and Enforcement Services; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General; U.S. Humane Society; Humane Society of Missouri; Monroe County Humane Society; Honey Creek Animal Hospital; and Horse and Angels Rescue.

Update 10/20/08:

The elderly lady and owner of the animals has been identified as Clara Vowell.

Sullivan County Prosecutor Bob Springer has decided not to file animal neglect charges against the Fairbanks woman.  Vowell has fully cooperated with authorities and voluntarily surrendered 67 of the animals.  Vowell has agreed to allow a veterinarian to periodically come to her home to assist her.

In Indiana, animal neglect is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail with a maximum fine of $1000.  There is no puppymill laws in Indiana.


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