Linda Sue Martin & Donald Decker Lawson Hoarding, ~100 animals seized, 60 euthanized Eureka, CA July 26, 2002

The rescue of sick and decrepit animals from a home on Erie Street that was operating as the Band of Mercy Animal Rescue is continuing, with only a few cats remaining.

Martin, 56, and Lawson, 66, were arrested on suspicion of felony animal abuse after officials were able to view the horrible conditions the animals were living in.

Since July 15 Shannon Miranda of Miranda's Rescue in Fortuna has retrieved 75 animals from the now condemned home. More than 40 of them had to be euthanized. Miranda said he suspects that more than 80 animals will be removed from the home by the time he's done.

Miranda was accompanied back to the home by Deputy Doug Pool of the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department and county Animal Control officials. Pool said that, when he saw the conditions of the animals and the home, he had sufficient cause to arrest Lawson and Martin.

Both Pool and Miranda said that conditions in the house were appalling. They described piles of feces mixed with urine-soaked newspapers as much as 6 feet high in some places. Both said they were almost sick at the sight.

"There was no bathroom," Miranda said. "The toilet, sink and shower were all covered by those newspapers."

Miranda said the cats that remain are becoming hard to catch in his humane traps, because the traps are often set off by rats.

Miranda first started removing animals from the home when he was contacted by Martin, who said she was being evicted.  "Over the phone I told her I only had room for eight dogs," Miranda said of a conversation with Martin before he visited the house.  When Miranda saw stacks of newspapers soaked with urine and mixed with feces, 6 feet high in some places, he contacted the sheriff's department.  Miranda said there was no bathroom in the home and Martin & Lawson were living in the same conditions as the animals.

Animals removed from the home are taken to Ferndale Veterinary and examined by veterinarian Kevin Silver. Of the animals euthanized, the cats all had either feline leukemia or feline AIDS, and the dogs all had extreme mange.

Miranda is billed for the veterinary work on the Band of Mercy animals under a separate account at Ferndale Veterinary, and he is attempting to find if the county is obligated to pay for any portion of it.

Reports that the Band of Mercy was at least partly funded by the Humboldt Area Foundation are true, but Barbara O'Neal, director of programs for the foundation, said the money the foundation gave to the rescue was at the request of donors' wills.

The $3,350 dollars given to the rescue last year was distributed by the foundation outside of its normal process for awarding grants -- a process which includes checking out a grant recipient.

But because the money was a direct donation tied to conditions stated in a will, no check on the recipient was required or made, she said.

Update 7/31/02:

Martin & Lawson plead not guilty at their first court appearance.  They will be back in court for a preliminary hearing on August 9th.

1 of the dogs named Barney, rescued from the home was adopted.

Update 8/24/02:

The preliminary hearing for Marin & Lawson has been rescheduled for August 29th.  Both face charges of felony animal abuse after Humboldt County sheriff's deputies witnessed the condition that nearly 100 animals, mostly dogs and cats, were living in at their home.  Off the nearly 100 animals taken from the home, more than 60 had to be euthanized for aggression and/or medical conditions.

Update 9/14/02:

A shouting match between Bill Cater, Lawson's lawyer and Prosecutor Allison Jackson got the attention of all in the courtroom before the 2nd day of preliminary hearings official began over evidence.  Superior Court Judge Timothy Cissna quickly brought order to the court.

Prosecutor Jackson called Shannon Miranda to the stand to describe the condition of each dog he removed from the home a week before Martin & Lawson were arrested.  Miranda was able to recall the condition of 14 of the 19 dogs he removed.  Each of the dogs suffered from mange and fleas and some had more severe medical conditions such as ear hematomas.  After objections from the defense questioning Miranda's veterinary expertise, Jackson had him explain his vast, lifetime experience with helping animals.

Jackson then asked Miranda to describe the condition of the house when he was removing the initial 19 dogs.

"The front (yard) wasn't that bad, it was fairly clean," Miranda said. "But there was a stench you can't imagine."  Miranda said from the front yard he could see a trail of newspapers and feces everywhere as Lawson was bringing caged dogs out of the house.

"I was just blown away," Miranda said. "Feces was everywhere, I wouldn't go in."  Miranda said along with the dogs he took nine chickens and a rabbit.

Jackson provided Miranda with 101 pictures and photocopies of pictures and asked him to describe what he saw in each one.  The pictures were of animals before they were taken to Miranda's Rescue, animals that were brought to the rescue, the Erie Street home and even some of bags full of animals that had already been euthanized.

Miranda said he didn't immediately report the condition the animals were living in to authorities because he was in a state of shock.

Cater was the first defense lawyer to begin questioning Miranda but was only able to squeeze in a few questions before court adjourned for the weekend.  Cater asked what determined if an animal was to be euthanized and Miranda told him age, aggression, health, physical and emotional problems were all taken into consideration.

Miranda said he tried to save each animal, even going against veterinarian suggestions in some cases. He said that when the decision to euthanize a dog was made he would hold it, pet it and talk to it until it died.

Unless a plea bargain is struck, Martin & Lawson charged with 2 counts of felony animal abuse each will go to trial.

The next court appearance is scheduled for October 16th.  Martin and Lawson remain free on their own recognizance.

Update 1/7/03:

Martin and Lawson were given a re-arraignment hearing on September 16th because additional charges have been brought against the couple.  But the 2 did not attend a pretrial hearing on November 7th in which a possible plea agreement was discussed.

Judge Cissna handed down a $25,00 bench warrant for both Lawson & Marin that will be issued if the 2 don't show up for the next pretrial set for November 13th.

Judge Cissna stated the arrangement was that both Lawson and Martin will be charged with 1 felony count of animal abuse each and will see no immediate jail time.  A new trial date of February 18th was tentatively set.

Of the 15 surviving animals taken to Miranda's Animal Rescue and nursed back to health all but one remains in his care.  The rest have been adopted.

Update 2/20/03:

Martin & Lawson pleaded guilty in Superior Court to one count of felony animal abuse each.

The case against Lawson and Martin went to the Humboldt County Probation Department for a pre sentence report.

They're both due back in court March 19 for possible sentencing.  Deputy District Attorney Allison Jackson said both will see no less than five years on felony probation.  Martin and Lawson will also undergo psychological evaluations and must comply with whatever counseling is recommended by the evaluator.   Prison time is possible but Jackson thinks that it is unlikely. Jail time or community service work is also a possibility.

The couple has been free on their own recognizance since just after their arrest.


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