Will Taylor, president of the Harlan County Humane Society, said the society has contacted PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and KACCA (Kentucky Animal Care and Control Association) seeking input on what actions can be taken to seize or care for animals feared to be mistreated at a trailer in the Kitts community. The trailer is owned by Glenn Fultz, who pleaded not guilty to animal cruelty charges on Monday.
Taylor said the humane society has not been successful in its attempt to obtain a search and seizure warrant through the county attorney's office.
"There have been complaints of more animals, but we've been told there is nothing that can be done until the trial date," Taylor said. That date, which he presumed would be "as late as July or August," has been set for an even later date Sept. 12.
"It's that long. Those animals have to stay in that condition until then," he said.
The case, like many others, may not even go to trial, he said. He said Roger Sizemore, with the Harlan County Health Department, has been contacted to look into the situation on a "health level." Sizemore could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Though there was no warrant for a search last month, pictures of the trailer and its surroundings from the highway were enough, said Dan Mosley, Harlan County special programs and emergency 911 coordinator. Mosley, along with Harlan County Animal Control officer Michael Walbright, along with representatives from the humane society and Kentucky State Police, visited the residence after receiving several complaints from neighbors.
"We were following up on complaints," he said. "You could see that most of the animals had something wrong with them." He said a wound on one dog was visible and that another appeared to have a broken leg.
Mosley said he observed several dogs looking outside the trailer's windows and there were 20 to 25 animals running loose outside. He said he could see from the highway what appeared to be the skull of an animal and that two vehicles were parked outside the trailer, which had also reportedly housed some of the animals.
"You could definitely tell animals had been living in one car," Mosley said. The other car had tinted windows, he said.
"Mr. Fultz thinks he's helping these animals, but from what we've seen, he's hurting more than helping," he said. "This is a very legitimate case and needs to be looked at with seriousness."
Assistant County Attorney Mike Pace said Fultz was charged with animal cruelty as a result of the investigation and Taylor signing criminal charges against him. According to the circuit clerk's office, Fultz was served a summons on Jan. 20 for failure to provide "food, drink, space and health care" to numerous animals.
Though state laws vary, it is illegal under all circumstances to cause a companion animal suffering, according to PETA. That suffering includes deprivation of water, food or adequate shelter.
Fultz maintains he is a Good Samaritan and was only trying to help the dogs.
"When I see a dog set out, I've just got to take it in. I don't like to see them stranded or put to sleep. I'm out there doing what all these so-called do-gooders say they're doing," he said.
He said he used to have an adequate building near KY 38 where he kept his dogs, but when the state highway department acquired his land for road improvements, he was paid for the land but not a facility replacement.
"I'm just doing the best with what I have right now," he said. "This is just a temporary setup. I feed these dogs and I buy medicine for them," he said. "I've carried 50-pound bags of dog food in all kinds of weather to make sure these dogs are taken care of."
Kristin DeJournett, cruelty case worker with PETA, said a search warrant would provide even more compelling evidence, which could aid the humane society in removing the animals from their location. The warrant would have to be issued by Harlan District Judge Phillip Hamm.
"Our first concern is the immediate welfare of the animals. We're trying to find a way to get permission for the humane society to go on site to feed and care for the animals," DeJournett said. She said on Tuesday she is "scouring state statutes" and hoped to have some helpful information by the end of the day.
"We'd like to have them seized and removed altogether," she said.
Sharon Williams, secretary of KACCA, said animals are considered property in Kentucky and to remove them from a location at any time would require a judge's order.
"There are certainly options. A judge can issue an order to have them removed or at least looked at by a local veterinarian," she said.
A signed statement by a veterinarian confirming that the animals are in immediate need of care could also carry weight with a judge, said Jenny Brown, senior program specialist with The Humane Society of the United States.
"It has to be court-ordered (to remove animals), but it can be done," Brown said. The county attorney's office also has the option of petitioning the court for a temporary injunction until the outcome, she said.
"If the animals are in dire need, a vet should be called to come on site," she said.
She said a collaborative approach should be used in resolving the issue, with input from zoning and health department officials if necessary.