Animal cruelty case dismissed against dog rescuer

Published 9:10 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The case against a dog rescue owner charged with animal cruelty has been dismissed.

On Tuesday in Beaufort County District Court, Judge Darrell B. Cayton Jr. granted the motion to dismiss the state’s case against Julianne Harris, owner of Out of the Woods Rescue in Blounts Creek.

“I’ve never abused an animal in my life. To be vindicated now, it’s good. But it really doesn’t take away from everything that I’ve been through — and what the dogs have been through,” Harris said after the decision had been handed down.

Harris was charged with 27 counts of cruelty to animals in April, after Beaufort County Animal Control confiscated 27 dogs from the property on March 22 via a search warrant issued by the Magistrates’ Office.

However, it was the search warrant that resulted in the case being dismissed: there was not enough reason for probable cause to search the property.

The search warrant was issued on information that Harris had stolen two dogs and had possession of them on her property and had more than 100 malnourished dogs in filthy kennels in her house — all of which came from anonymous sources. Though the two missing dogs were found on the property, at the time, Second Judicial District Attorney Seth Edwards said the accusation of larceny was unfounded. Harris picked the dogs up after several people called the rescue about the dogs running loose for several days, and said they were malnourished and covered with ticks when she took them in.

The other anonymous source’s accusation of more than 100 kennels in the home occupied by malnourished animals also was not established and, ultimately, was proven not to be the case — which led to an issue of that source’s credibility.

Another issue informing Cayton’s decision was that Animal Control Officer Bob Breisacher spoke to Harris at her Blounts Creek home, where Out of the Woods Rescue was located, earlier on the day the search warrant was issued. While Breisacher testified Tuesday that he saw 12 dogs on the premises, some inside the house and some in the fenced-in yard, and that the home “was very unkempt,” when the warrant was issued there was no information about the physical state of the dogs he observed.

“I think what’s really key is that you have an officer going on the property and doesn’t say a thing about the dogs’ conditions except they’re healthy,” Les Robinson, Harris’ attorney, said during the hearing. “Here’s a person who knows what dogs look like when they’re being mistreated. It’s different if you saw some things, but here, there’s not a word about them being mistreated.”

Though Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Dixon dropped 15 of 27 of the animal cruelty charges at the hearing’s start, she argued that this was not the typical animal cruelty case — though the animals were in good health, the living conditions of Harris’ home qualified as “tormenting of animals” and were “depriving them of the type of home they should be living in.”

“At best, what I have is 12 dogs that are observed, 13 dogs that are not,” Cayton said before granting the motion to dismiss. “There is nothing regarding the conditions of the dogs.”

Harris said it should have been the state of the dogs and not the state of her home that took precedence in the case.

“I loved every one of those dogs. I took good care of them. I might not have taken such good care of myself, but the condition of the dogs kind of speaks for itself,” Harris said. “My house was a mess at the time, and it’s embarrassing for me. My house was a cluttered mess, but the dog’s crates were clean. I had three different play areas outside, and they would play in groups.”

All of the dogs confiscated by Animal Control were ultimately rescued or adopted out by the animal shelter, according to an earlier interview with Animal Control Chief Billy Lassiter. Many of the dogs were older and had been with Harris for several years.

“I know where about 12 of them are and almost every one of them got adopted by their foster homes. … That’s what I wanted all along. It makes me happy,” Harris said. “But I don’t know where the others are. I don’t know if they’re on a chain. Right now, I’m not so sure several of them aren’t living that life right now. … I think that’s my biggest and concern. I worry about them.”

Harris said after trespassers on her property forced her to leave her home and fighting the animal cruelty charges against her, she’s through with the rescue business and will focus on her remaining personal dogs, all of which are between the ages of 16 and 20 years old.

“The biggest thing for me that I want people to know is that I’ve never hurt an animal in my life. I’ve spent my life’s savings on these dogs that were abandoned by other people. All I wanted all along was these dogs to have a home, but I’m not going to dump them at the shelter,” Harris said. “After going through this — it has absolutely killed me. … I put too much time and put my heart into it, and I just can’t do it anymore.”