Saturday, July 2, 2011

Voices of Love and Joy

A brief overview of a long story:

Kapsa Shady Lane Kennels in Ballantine, MT was raided December 30, 2008 by the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office. The seized animals (approximately 200 English shepherds, Pugs, and mixed breed dogs, a number of which were about to give birth, along with 3 cats and several birds) were taken into custody by Yellowstone County and sent to Metra Park arena (local fairgrounds) and Moore Lane Animal Hospital where they were cared for by volunteers while the case of animal cruelty against Linda Kapsa was played out (approximately 9 months).

On July 9, 2009, Kapsa pleaded no contest, and after a spay/neuter clinic the majority of dogs would soon be released for foster and adoption. ONLY on condition that the volunteers caring for the seized dogs receive first choice for adoption of the dogs for which they had been caring did Kapsa enter the plea deal. Judge Watters, the presiding judge, acknowledged and agreed with the condition.

National English Shepherd Rescue (NESR), a nonprofit organization based out of Ollala, WA, was selected by Yellowstone County to oversee the adoption/fostering of the dogs. NESR has had a long standing feud with Kapsa and worked with Yellowstone County for months prior to the raid.

During the 8 - 9 months in which the seized dogs were housed at the fairgrounds in horse barns, Penny Ronning volunteered more than 1,500 hours, spent more than $2,000 for the daily care needs of the dogs and was highly praised as one of the top dog handlers during her many months working with the dogs.

Each volunteer dog handler was assigned a stall of dogs to help socialize. Ronning began working with Love, Joy, and Happy the first week of January. Love, an English shepherd, was 10 years old at the time; Joy, an English shepherd, was 1- 2 years old at the time; and Happy, a black Labrador mix, is of undetermined age.

Night of July 4, 2009 Penny in stall with Happy, Joy, and Love.
Documentation shows the tremendous progress demonstrated by the dogs which were in Penny's care. Love, Joy, and Happy were among the very first dogs to be leash trained. Joy was the first dog to master the agility course and the only dog that could run the course fully in one direction and immediately turn and run it in the opposite direction. Joy was even highlighted on the local news with Penny running her through the agility course.

However, not all at the fairgrounds was as it was presented in the press to the public. During the months the animals were in Yellowstone County's custody close to 70 of the animals died horrific, brutal deaths. Abuse of the animals by volunteers closely associated with Yellowstone County officials and abuse of the animals by Yellowstone County employees occurred all too often.

Money being spent by the County as reported to the public was in serious question. Volunteers were paying into the thousands and thousands of dollars on the daily care needs of the dogs. Volunteers were supplying ALL labor for the daily care needs of the dogs and ALL labor in the construction of the facilities housing the dogs.

Volunteers that questioned any of these practices or that spoke up were fired and denied all access to the dogs and the County facility known as Metra Park.

Penny with Love
During the months in which the dogs were housed at the fairgrounds, Penny was noted as one of the most dedicated and hard working volunteers. Documentation proves the many, many hours she sacrificed and devoted to the well-being of the dogs. Photo, written, and video documentation as well as other volunteers' affidavits reveal and prove the tremendous bond established between Penny and the dogs with which she lovingly cared for and worked with on a daily basis.

In May 2009, after witnessing a dedicated volunteer wrongfully and disgracefully "discharged" because she dared to question and to speak up, Penny began to question how both the dogs and volunteers were being treated by Yellowstone County.

In June 2009, Penny wrote a letter to the three Yellowstone County Commissioners requesting badly and desperately needed supplies.

In July 2009, Penny was asked by the defense to be a neutral party during Kapsa's court ordered walk around in which Kapsa was to select 20 dogs that would potentially be ordered by the court to be returned to her. Penny was asked to be present to verify that, as best she knew, each stall of dogs at Metra Park contained the dogs that were supposed to be there. She was also asked to verify, as best she knew, which dogs volunteers wanted to adopt. Penny was asked to perform this task because she had been described by other volunteers as being honest, fair, and the one volunteer that had dogs in all four barns at Metra Park. She was described as being the volunteer with the most knowledge of all 4 barns.

Penny with Eddie
When the time came to "apply" with NESR to adopt the dogs Penny applied to adopt Love, Joy, Eddie, and Happy -- 4 of the 8 dogs for which she had been the handler.

In June of 2009, Penny had emailed the president of NESR asking what the adoption process was going to be for the volunteers. In July, the president wrote Penny back stating that NESR had not yet determined a process and that NESR would not be discussing it with the volunteers.

Also in June 2009, the president of The English Shepherd Club and active member of NESR told Penny during a phone conversation that one of the dogs Penny had been working with and wanting to adopt had a long list of NESR members waiting to adopt and that Penny would have to "fight" for the adoption.

Toward the end of July 2009, the president of NESR and the adoption coordinator for NESR finally came to Montana to actually see the dogs for the VERY FIRST TIME and begin the adoption process. A dog trainer out of Pennsylvania with experience in search and rescue was deemed NESR's professional animal behaviorist/expert and the person leading the evaluations on the dogs.

Unknown to Penny and performed when she was not present; Joy was the first of all seized dogs to be "evaluated" by NESR. According to volunteers witnessing the "evaluation" Joy performed beautifully. Also at this time, volunteers witnessed highly abusive treatment by the NESR professional animal "expert" and "evaluator" of Love, the 10 year old English shepherd.

Volunteers later witnessed Eddie being manhandled by one of NESR's "expert evaluators".

Penny walking Joy
The NESR "evaluation committee" deemed Penny's group as "having made no progress since January" and denied her the adoption of all English shepherd dogs for which she applied. She was also not offered ANY English shepherd out of the entire 200+ English shepherds now needing homes. While Penny was brutally and cruelly being denied the adoption of Joy, the president of NESR told Penny that they were going to "give" her Happy, the black Labrador.

It should be noted that documentation reveals NESR's disdain for Happy and Happy's presence among the English shepherds. It was documented that this "animal expert" for NESR had stated that Happy should be in a stall by herself since as a Lab she will teach the young English shepherds bad behavior and she would drive Love, the older and highly intelligent English shepherd crazy.

Happy laying outside the stall she shared with Love and Joy
In the end, NESR denied Penny the adoption of Happy also. They chose an 81-year-old former volunteer to award Happy and then stated that Penny rejected Happy.

NESR also claimed that Penny's adoption applications were appalling and that absolutely no animal rescue organization would give her an animal based upon her applications.

Penny has many years in rescuing and fostering dogs.

One of Penny's co-handlers who also spoke out was also denied the adoption of a dog as was Penny's mother who was also a volunteer.

Penny's mother's application was acknowledged by NESR and then completely ignored. Penny's co-handler, Kelly Dennehy's application was deemed by NESR as being turned in late even though at the time Kelly turned in her application the dogs had not yet been released by the court for adoption placement by NESR.

After repeated attempts and requests by Penny and Kelly and vast numbers of concerned citizens throughout Yellowstone County and the nation, NESR refused all discussion on the matter.

The truth is that both Penny and Kelly were denied as acts of retaliation on the part of Yellowstone County and NESR.

In 2009, because of NESR's adamant refusal of discussion Penny and Kelly began legal action to adopt Love and Joy.

In 2009, volunteers filed suit against Yellowstone County also.

For the first time on my blog, I am sharing my own personal story.

For more information and to follow, please click here.