Charges filed in animal rescue case

Published 6:56 pm Wednesday, April 26, 2017

BLOUNTS CREEK — The woman accused last month of hoarding animals at a Blounts Creek home has been charged with 27 counts of animal cruelty.

The former owner of Out of the Woods Rescue, Julianne Harris, was charged by Beaufort County Animal Control for what Chief Animal Control Officer Billy Lassiter referred to as “the totality of the situation” found at Harris’ home on March 22, when animal control officers and Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputies searched the property for two dogs they were told were stolen. At the time, those dogs and 25 others were confiscated from the residence, and within days, most were removed from the Betsy Bailey Nelson Animal Control Facility by other rescue groups; others were adopted. Though the two dogs were found on the property, Second Judicial District Attorney Seth Edwards said the accusation of larceny was unfounded.

Harris has vehemently denied any of her animals were stolen, abused, neglected or mistreated.

“Every dog in my care has received excellent vet care. Twenty-six of the dogs, including the ‘stolen’ dogs were spayed/neutered and heartworm negative at my expense,” Harris wrote in a statement. “Yes, I had a lot of dogs. No one wanted to reduce the numbers more than I did. However, I am experienced and trained in rescue. I have a large property with covered, fenced kennels and play areas. I also have wonderful volunteers who worked with the dogs.”

Each animal cruelty charge is a separate misdemeanor, likely only punishable by probation unless a person found guilty has a prior record, according to Edwards.

While Lassiter said in an earlier interview that all the dogs removed from Harris’ home seemed healthy, if obese from lack of exercise, on Wednesday he said the charges were recommended by forensic veterinary specialists from the state.

“They came down and looked at everything that we had,” Lassiter said. “And at that time was when the conclusion was made that she should be charged.”

Several rescue organizations spoke out in Harris’ defense after the March incident, and a GoFundMe account — “Helping JuJu” — has since been set up by friends to help raise money for Harris’ expenses and defense.

Harris said her reputation has suffered as a result of what she claims is a “personal vendetta.”

“I have been a good citizen. I was a volunteer firefighter/EMT, did search and rescue, coached youth softball. I have rescued hundreds of local animals, as well, on the national level. I’m trained in rescue and sheltering by American Humane Association and HSUS (Humane Society of the United States). I’ve rescued and rehomed more than 500 dogs,” Harris wrote. “Do hoarders find homes for hundreds of dogs?”

Harris’ court date is set for May 18.