Dogs rescued, no charges to be filed against rescue owner

Published 7:17 pm Tuesday, April 4, 2017

BLOUNTS CREEK — The woman accused of animal hoarding in Blounts Creek spoke out Tuesday about the events surrounding Beaufort County Animal Control’s confiscation of 27 of her rescue dogs.

Julianne Harris, who operates Out of the Woods rescue, sent out a press release describing law enforcement and animal control’s seizure of the dogs on March 22, an incident animal control contends was prompted by information that two of her dogs were not rescued by Harris, but stolen.

Last week local media, as well as media sources outside of the area, reported that Beaufort County Animal Control was seeking former owners of all dogs taken from Harris’ home. However, Animal Control Chief Billy Lassiter said there was no indication the other dogs were stolen.

“We know of two, but that’s the only reason that raised questions about the rest of them,” Lassiter said at the time.

District Attorney Seth Edwards said Tuesday the D.A.’s office investigator found the accusation that Harris stole the dogs to be unfounded, and would not be charging her with larceny.

Within two days of being taken from Harris’ home to the Betsy Bailey Nelson Animal Control Facility, six of the dogs were adopted and three were reunited with past owners: the two previously described as stolen, as well as one other. The remaining dogs were rescued by local rescue groups, most at Harris’ behest, she said.

“I believe that the two ‘stolen’ dogs in question probably did belong to the people who are claiming them, at one point,” Harris wrote in her press release. “However, the dogs had been running loose for several days. I had received a couple of calls about them. One lady told me that animal control had refused to pick them up (because they weren’t on her property) and she was worried about them. I did not pick them up until on the way to town one afternoon, I almost hit them as they were in the road eating some trash. I picked them up, so they wouldn’t get hit. There are witnesses to the rescue. The dogs were emaciated, covered in ticks and had no collars or identification. I did the right thing, had them scanned for a chip and called animal control to report them as found. I have photos and vet records for these dogs in 2015.”

Harris’ said the primary source of her rescued dogs is animal lovers who find them and do not want to take them to the local shelter because there’s a chance the animals, if not adopted, will be euthanized. She wrote that she posts photos and information about found dogs on the ENC Dogs Facebook page and the Lost Dogs of NC page, and has reunited many lost dogs with their owners, in addition to rescuing and rehoming more than 500 dogs over the past 15 years.

“I have always worked tirelessly to help those who have lost dogs, and I have gone above and beyond to find the owners of dogs that I have found running at large. I have always contacted animal control and reported any dog that I have found, in case an owner is missing them. I had no desire to have another dog added to the pack. I also love to see the joy when a lost pet is reunited with a loving owner,” Harris said.

In an interview last week, Lassiter said animal control’s issue was not Harris, but the health of the animals. He said caring for so many animals can be an overwhelming task, but he refuted Harris’ claim that she informs shelter staff when lost dogs come into her rescue.

“What the legal thing to do is contact the shelter and at least let us know that you have the animal, and we can post it in a centralized location so people looking for animal can come here,” Lassiter said. “The right thing to do and the legal thing, is to let the local shelter know and that way we can post it. Give us a call, send us an email.”

Harris said when animal control officers and Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputies acted on information that she had stolen dogs in her possession, she was not offered any proof and simply given two options: “1) I would be arrested, jailed and charged with theft and possession of stolen property, and they would take all of my dogs, or 2) Sign over the dogs and not be arrested.”

According to Lassiter, someone on Harris’ property took photos of the two dogs in question and reported them stolen, which Harris said is untrue.

“They had a search warrant claiming that someone had been in my garage in January and had seen 50 abused dogs in filthy crates and that there were over 100 dogs in my house. No proof of this ridiculous allegation or who made it was provided. If anyone was in my garage in January they had broken in to my house,” Harris wrote.

Harris has not been charged with a crime. According to state law, animal abuse is defined in terms of “’cruelty’ and ‘cruel treatment,’ which includes every act, omission or neglect whereby unjustifiable physical pain, suffering or death is caused or permitted.”

Lassiter said while in Harris’ care, all of the dogs were receiving vet care and had been microchipped.

“I think all of them, once they were at the shelter, really came out,” Lassiter said. “None of them had any problems other than being obese from not moving around too much, but they were all in good health.”

Animal control officers and the D.A.’s office will determine if there will be any charges filed against Harris at a later date, he said.

“Maybe next week we’ll know what direction we’ll take with it,” Lassiter said. “There’s no timeframe on it.”

The District Attorney confirmed that case would be visited in the future.

“There are no charges forthcoming at this time, though it is possible that there may be later,” Edwards said.

Lassiter said ultimately, the outcome was good — all of the dogs have been adopted and rescued, which was Harris’ intention in the first place.

Harris, however, said her reputation has been gravely harmed: “I have been vilified and libeled from Washington to Charlotte to Virginia. I had a pristine reputation in the rescue world. It was my reputation and respect that enabled me to find rescues to take all but five of these dogs (in the shelter). Now I am labeled a hoarder and abuser because one man said so.”