SPCA responds

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As promised, here’s SPCA of Texas attorney Claire Schwarz responding to Dr. Gaylon TeSlaa’s remarks. Letter is unedited and all links are hers:

Re: Gaylon TeSlaa’s letter of June 5, 2005 

To whom it may concern: 

We were
made aware of Gaylon TeSlaa’s (“TeSlaa”) letter posted on your website on June
6, 2005. As I will explain, TeSlaa’s
letter contains numerous inaccuracies and falsehoods. 

I will first address TeSlaa’s defamatory statement that the
“SPCA is actually having technicians or unlicensed veterinarians performing
spays and neuters”, TeSlaa, a California veterinarian, plainly is ignorant of Texas
law. Rule §573.35 of the Rules of
Professional Conduct, Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, provides
that “[e]ach veterinarian, including a relief veterinarian, shall post or
display at the veterinarian’s practice location, whether mobile or fixed, his
or her license to practice veterinary medicine and the most recent license
renewal certificate.” The SPCA only
employs licensed veterinarians to perform spay and neuter surgeries. TeSlaa’s false declaration is extremely
harmful to the reputation and integrity of the SPCA of Texas. TeSlaa fails to provide any evidence
supporting his defamatory remark, even though he said that he “asked an awful
lot of questions.” The SPCA of Texas
takes such allegations very seriously and will be carefully examining its
possible remedies against TeSlaa. 

TeSlaa’s
statements about the case of
State of Texas v. Pamela Chennault, Case No. 04-D-0034, are demonstrably false. Deputy Sheriff Brandon Anderson of the
Hopkins County, Texas Sheriff’s Department was the law enforcement officer in
charge of the seizure conducted on September 11, 2004 of the animals located on
the premises of Pamela Chennault (“Chennault”) , Route 2, Box 307, Sulphur
Springs, Texas 75482 (FM 2560). Dave
Garcia, the SPCA of Texas Vice President of Operations, accompanied Deputy
Anderson on the September 7, 2004 (or thereabouts) investigation of Chennault’s
premises. While present on the premises,
Mr. Garcia photographed the then-current conditions of Chennault’s home and
yard, showing the living quarters of Chennault’s dogs. The photographs may be viewed at
www.spca.org. During this investigation,
some 70 dogs were kept at Chennault’s residence. Chennault was aware that this investigation
had taken place. 

On
September 11, 2004, 4 days following the investigation, Deputy Anderson
obtained a warrant from Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Yvonne King,
authorizing the seizure of the animals located at Chennault’s residence. Mr. Garcia was present when Deputy Anderson
submitted the investigative evidence in support of the warrant to Judge King. Mr. Garcia discussed with Judge King the
evidence demonstrated by the photographs. Contrary to TeSlaa’s contention that “Mr. Garcia was getting the judge’s
signature for the raid,” it was Deputy Anderson who obtained the warrant for
seizure as he was the law enforcement officer in charge of this case. In his sworn Application for Warrant to Seize
Cruelly-Treated Animal, Deputy Anderson testified that he had reason to believe
and did believe that approximately 70 dogs were being cruelly treated. The Application sets forth the facts showing
the probable cause in support of the warrant. Those facts were “upon observation of animals by myself and SPCA the
animals are living in their own feces, inappropriate shelter, water, and
food.Also numerous dogs in each pen.” The State of Texas defines “cruelly treated” to include “tortured,
seriously overworked, unreasonably abandoned, unreasonably deprived of
necessary food, care, or shelter, cruelly confined, or caused to fight with
another animal.” (Tex. Health & Safety Code, §821.021) 

TeSlaa argues that “the general strategy is to depict
everything in the worst possible light. Get a picture of an animal behind a chain link fence with a pathetic
expression and a few close-ups on some unscooped poop (which I got plenty of AT
the SPCA as well), and you can pull at anyone’s heart strings!” (emphasis in
original). Contrary to TeSlaa’s contention, a review of the photographs
displayed on the SPCA of Texas website belies his argument. His contention certainly denigrates the
integrity of Deputy Anderson, Hopkins County Attorney Dustanna Rabe, and Judge
King each of whom reviewed the investigative evidence and decided that the
evidence supported the issuance of a warrant for seizure and prosecution of the
case. A review of the inventory prepared
by the SPCA of Texas at the time of the seizure of the 24 dogs removed from
Chennault’s residence shows the physical condition of the animals. The vast majority of the dogs suffered from
matted coat, were covered with feces and urine, were urine saturated, suffered
from hairloss, and had overgrown nails. (Exhibit “A” to the Officer’s Return). 

It is important to note that at the time of the
investigation, some 70 dogs were present at the Chennault residence while at
the time of the seizure approximately four days later, only 24 dogs were
present. It can be reasonably inferred
that Chennault removed some 46 dogs to some other location during this time
period. TeSlaa suggests this by his
reference to his visit to Chenault’s mother’s house where presumably Chennault
housed the other 46 dogs. 

TeSlaa goes on to assert that in the Chennault seizure he
was shocked and appalled at “their [sic] not being a veterinarian involved at
any point in the process.” Although he
fails to define what the “process” was, apparently he is referring to the process
of removing the animals from the Chennault residence and transferring them to
the Perry Campus of the SPCA of Texas located in McKinney, Texas. During those activities, Mr. Garcia was
present to supervise the care of the animals and trained veterinary technicians
performed the triage when the animals arrived at the Perry Campus. Mr. Garcia has more than 20 years’ experience
in investigative work. He has also been
an instructor with national institutions and law enforcement on a national
basis. The SPCA of Texas maintains a
medical clinic at the Perry Campus which is staffed by a licensed veterinarian,
so the animals had access to a veterinarian. All of the animals cared for by the SPCA of Texas are inspected by a
veterinarian while they are housed at the SPCA of Texas. Although TeSlaa implies that the care
provided by the trained veterinarian technicians was deficient, he neglects to
provide any evidence thereof. 

TeSlaa also contends that there was a lack of due process,
asserting that there were “minimal to no warnings, pre-emptive inspections, no
coaching or advice on how to meet standards.” The Chennault case was a civil case not a criminal one so the due
process requirements are different. Further, Deputy Anderson reports that he made a visit to the Chennault
residence some time prior to the September 7, 2004 investigation and he
counseled Chennault on the poor condition of her animals. Even though Chennault participated in the
2004 case, she is still the subject of complaints. The Hopkins County Sheriff’s office reports
that it investigated Chennault on May 31, 2005 and reported that she has
approximately 75 to 100 dogs on the property and that they are in poor
condition. The Hopkins County Attorney reports
she has recently received numerous complaints regarding Chennault. 

The statute controlling the disposition of cruelly treated
animals, §821.021 et seq. of the Texas Health and Safety Code, does not require
any warnings, pre-emptive inspections, etc. to be given to an owner prior to a
warrant being issued for seizure of the animals. §821.022 states: 

(a) If a peace
officer or an officer who has responsibility for animal control in a county or
municipality has reason to believe that an animal has been or is being cruelly
treated, the officer may apply to a justice court or magistrate in the county
or to a municipal court in the municipality in which the animal is located for
a warrant to seize the animal. 

(b) On a showing of
probable cause to believe that the animal has been or is being cruelly treated,
the court or magistrate shall issue the warrant and set a time within 10
calendar days of the date of issuance for a nearing in the appropriate justice
court or municipal court to determine whether the animal has been cruelly
treated. 

(c) The officer
executing the warrant shall cause the animal to be impounded and shall give
written notice to the owner of the animal of the time and place of the hearing.

 Thus, the SPCA of Texas, or any other humane organization in
the State of Texas,
does not have any police power regarding seizures of animals. In the State of Texas, only law enforcement officials
possess the authority to obtain and serve warrants. The SPCA of Texas supports law enforcement
through conducting investigations, testifying as fact and expert witnesses,
assisting during the seizure operation, housing animals during the impoundment,
and should the court direct, take title to the animals once the court has
terminated the ownership interest of the previous owner. 

A review of the court’s file of the Chennault case proves
that these requirements were satisfied. The Warrant for Animal Seizure clearly sets out the date of the hearing
on September 16, 2004, 5 days after the warrant was served. Chennault, represented by her counsel, J.
Douglas Froneberger and Ruth Lewman, appeared at the hearing.  After reviewing the investigative evidence,
including a videotape, Chennault and her attorneys agreed to enter into an
order whereby Chennault surrendered her dogs. No criminal charges were filed against Chennault, no monetary damages
were assessed, and no findings or admission of liability or wrongdoing were
adjudicated or found. At no time has the
SPCA of Texas been aware of any formal charges or claims by Chennault that her
rights to due process were violated.

If the hearing had proceeded and if the court had found that
Chennault cruelly treated her animals, then the court would have been required
to divest Chennault of ownership and either (1) order a public sale of the
animals by auction; (2) order the animals to be given to a nonprofit humane society;
or (3) order the animals to be humanely destroyed if the court decided that the
best interests of the animals or that the public health and safety would be
served by doing so. (Tex. Health & Safety Code, §821.023(d)). If the court ordered that a public
auction be held, then Chennault had the right to appeal the order so long as
she filed an appeal bond sufficient for the cost of housing and caring for the
impounded animals during the appeal process. (Tex. Health & Safety Code,
§821.025). If TeSlaa disagrees with the
statute’s provisions, the SPCA of Texas suggests that he propose revisions to
the Texas
legislature. 

I trust that this information provides the necessary
background to dispel the falsehoods set forth in TeSlaa’s letter. Lastly, I hope that TeSlaa will refrain from
making such inflammatory fabrications about an organization dedicated to the
health and safety of animals without at least having the professional courtesy
to make a diligent and thorough inquiry into the actual facts of the case. 

Very
truly yours, 

Claire
Collins Schwarz
Attorney
for the SPCA of Texas 

cc: James Bias,
President, SPCA of Texas

Mike Orren is the Chief Product Officer of The Dallas Morning News; President of Belo Business Intelligence; husband to Crystal Orren; and a Mungarian at Munger Place Church in Dallas, TX. All opinions herein are mine alone.