June 28, 2009 in City

Felony count in kennel case

Puppy mill owner faces 10 charges
Kristin M. Kraemer Tri-City Herald
 

KENNEWICK – Dog No. D-1 was missing a left hind paw.

Dog U-1 didn’t have a left eye.

And Dog T-63 was trying to feed nine pups while being malnourished and dehydrated herself.

They are just three of the identified victims in an east Kennewick puppy mill that have landed longtime kennel owner Ella Louise Stewart in legal trouble.

Friday, the 66-year-old Kennewick woman was charged with 10 counts for allegedly failing to feed or care for the well-being of about 370 American Eskimo dogs, and dumping the carcasses of others that had died in a pit on her property.

The sole felony charge in Benton County Superior Court – first-degree animal cruelty – is for five dogs that had to be euthanized after being rescued from Stewart’s property. Their health problems included an infected uterus, kidney and urinary infections, a ruptured eye, a brain injury, and infected vaginal tumors, according to court documents filed by Deputy Prosecutor Terry Bloor.

The remaining nine counts are for second-degree animal cruelty, a gross misdemeanor. Though each charge is for a specific dog, the case covers all the neglected dogs who lived in filthy makeshift cages.

It was said to be one of the nation’s largest and worst puppy mills.

Stewart had been charged in Benton County District Court with one count of second-degree animal cruelty stemming from the puppy breeding operation. She’d already pleaded innocent and had a hearing set for July 29.

But prosecutors decided this week, after meeting with sheriff’s and animal authorities, that more charges were needed because of the harm done to the dogs.

“The consensus was in order to hold the defendant accountable, we should file a felony count and then a series of nine misdemeanor counts,” Bloor said. “The people who were involved in the investigation, along with the Humane Society people whose job is to ensure the protection of various animals, are actually supportive of our decision and participated in the decision to file the charges.”

Stewart is scheduled to appear July 9 in Superior Court.

Her attorney, Peyman Younesi of Kennewick, could not be reached Friday for comment.

Stewart had operated Sun Valley Kennel since 1967. She was arrested May 12 after Deputy Scott Runge found deplorable conditions while responding to an unrelated call.

“He states a large number of dogs were living on the premises, many covered with feces or urine, living in boxes, shopping carts or crates, with plywood covering with little ventilation and many in medical distress,” Bloor wrote in court documents.

Deputies returned two weeks later with a search warrant to seize the dogs, assess the living conditions of the property and collect any business documentation of animal sales.

Three search warrants were served.

The dogs were taken based on their “lack of proper nutrition, dehydration, poor hygiene, unattended medical needs, lack of ventilation and heat exposure,” documents said.

Stewart relinquished control of the dogs, which ranged in age from 2 days old to their late teens.

The dogs have since been taken to animal shelters across the Northwest.

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