HARRISON, Arkansas––A U.S. district court jury in Harrison, Arkansas, on May 16, 2014 ended––or appeared to end––what was believed to be the last active court case resulting from the 2005 evacuation of animals from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
The jury for the Western Division of Arkansas rejected the contention of Every Dog Needs A Home founder Tammy Hanson, 47, that her rights were violated in October 2005 by Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery and four then-county employees. Montgomery and codefendants had impounded 477 allegedly neglected dogs from Hanson and EDNAH. Most were pit bulls sent to Hanson by organizations working out of the Winn-Dixie parking lot rescue center on the outskirts of New Orleans.
“Although Hanson told the court she planned to appeal, the case appears to be concluded for all practical purposes,” said a Baxter County media release.
“The Tammy Hanson case began on October 21, 2005,” the county release summarized, “when sheriff’s investigators conducted aerial reconnaissance over property in the Gamaliel area of Baxter County where a dog compound or puppy mill was reported to be located. Neighbors had reported numerous dogs barking with sounds of distress. At least one neighbor reported a dog missing and believed the dog to be on the property.”
The sheriff’s investigators testified that from the air they saw about 100 dogs running loose, the release continued, plus “numerous dogs in small dog cages along the roadway of the property and in the main compound area. In addition, there were also larger dog pens with numerous dogs in each. There was trash scattered all over the compound,” and “dead dogs lying on the ground and not moving as the helicopter hovered overhead.”
Obtaining a search warrant, sheriff’s deputies, a local veterinarian, and personnel from the Humane Society of North Central Arkansas raided EDNAH later the same day. “Officials with the Humane Society of North Central Arkansas said they had complained to authorities about Hanson for three years,” reported Julie Stewart of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Hanson reportedly brought about 50 pit bulls back from New Orleans herself. She acknowledged to Chandra Huston of the Baxter Bulletin that she brought 14 pit bulls in a horse trailer, after spending five weeks volunteering in the New Orleans area.
Personnel from Pasado’s Safe Haven, of Sultan, Washington, said they had sent Hanson another 61 pit bulls. The Humane Society of Louisiana sent 18 more. A load of pit bulls delivered to EDNAH by two volunteer drivers from the Winn-Dixie center on October 17, 2005 were allegedly still in their transport cases when the EDNAH facilities when impounded four days later.
A week after the impoundments, Pasado’s and the Humane Society of Louisiana recovered from EDNAH 25 and 28 pit bulls, respectively. Altogether 104 dogs were transferred to other facilities on October 28, 2005. More were relocated later, but some allegedly went to other severely substandard conditions.
On November 30, 2005, for instance, the Kansas Animal Health Department reportedly found about 75 sick cats and 120 starving dogs at the Miami County Humane Society in Paola, Kansas, operated by one Sheila Jones from her home. Investigators told Garance Burke of Associated Press that many of the dogs had come from EDNAH. Rescuers in Arkansas may have confused the Kansas organization with the much better known Miami County Humane Society in Union Township, Ohio, which was not involved. The Lawrence Humane Society took custody of the animals in the Jones case, relaying about 50 of them to other humane societies in Wichita, Hays, and Topeka.
Hanson, meanwhile, had previously attracted the attention of law enforcement. The Kansas City television station KMBC disclosed that authorities in Cass County, Missouri, in 2003 found 132 dogs at Hanson’s then-home near Belton, Missouri, but did not press neglect charges because the dogs were “generally healthy.”
In 1994, Sheriff Montgomery confirmed, Tammy Hanson was convicted in Cook County, Illinois, of impersonating a medical doctor, using her maiden name, Tammy Doneski. Prosecutors Cathy Sanders and Jim Sanford told Circuit Court Judge Thomas Dwyer that Doneski was hired by the Center for Human Reproduction based on a resumé that claimed she was a candidate for both a Ph.D. and an M.D. from the University of Chicago. For that offense, Hanson was sentenced to 18 months’ probation, fined $1,000, and ordered to perform 20 days of community service. Hanson appealed, but the Illinois Court of Appeals upheld the conviction in 1997.
Tammy Hanson, then 38, and her husband William Hanson, then 41, were arrested initially on misdemeanor cruelty charges. Tammy Hanson was eventually convicted of 20 cruelty counts, two counts of stealing animals, and two counts of tampering with physical evidence. William Hanson was convicted of 20 cruelty counts.
Scheduled to appear for sentencing on February 23, 2006, Tammy Hanson and William Hanson checked in at the courthouse, then fled. Tammy Hanson was apprehended in July 2009 in Sutton, Vermont, and was additionally held on a felony warrant from Lawrence County, Missouri, for allegedly stealing animals.
William Hanson was arrested in October 2009 near Kansas City, Missouri.
Sentenced to serve a year in jail for the EDNAH neglect convictions, while William Hanson drew a shorter sentence, Tammy Hanson filed her civil rights case in March 2010, while still incarcerated, seeking $300,000 in compensatory damages plus additional punitive damages.
The other longest-running lawsuits resulting from the post-Hurricane Katrina animal evacuation effort––at least among those known to ANIMALS 24-7––were custody disputes over individual animals who were found by rescuers and rehomed while their original families were still looking for them. The last of these cases concluded in 2009. The Best Friends Animal Society alone was reportedly involved in 18 such cases, mostly as an intervenor, helping to settle 15 of the cases out of court.
Several other cases involved post-evacuation sanctuary placements. Notably, Donald D. Chambers, 40, of Amherst, Ohio, was in January 2009 sentenced to serve a year in prison, was fined $1,000, and was ordered to pay $62,124 in restitution to Best Friends, after pleading guilty in October 2008 to defrauding Best Friends. Chambers acknowledged having taken 28 dogs rescued after Hurricane Katrina, plus $1,000 apiece for their care and feeding, on the promise to find adoptive homes for them.
In actuality, wrote Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Donna Miller, “Only three of the dogs given to Chambers found homes. Ten were euthanized at the Lorain County Kennel. One died in a dog fight. One died of untreated heartworms. Three died and were tossed into a trash bin. Six remained unaccounted for. Best Friends took back three of them.”
(See also “Post-Hurricane Katrina pet custody cases challenge adoptions,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-rc, and “Hurricane Katrina & Rita rescuers shift gears from rescue & reunion to rehoming,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-r7.)