Former shelter director found guilty on 6 counts of animal cruel - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Former shelter director found guilty on 6 counts of animal cruelty

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A Lawrence County jury has found Bobbie Taylor guilty on six counts of animal cruelty. 

The trial for the former animal shelter director lasted two weeks in Lawrence County Circuit Court. Taylor was found not guilty on nine other counts.  

Prosecutors called Bobbie Taylor, 84, an animal hoarder, but Taylor gave tearful testimony about her lifelong dedication to helping animals. 

Jurors deliberated for more than three hours on Wednesday, all day Thursday, and several hours on Friday before handing down the verdict.

Taylor had 15 misdemeanor charges of cruelty to a dog or cat stemming from a June 2015 raid at the shelter on her property.

She faces up to a $6,000 fine and up to one year in prison on each of the six charges she was convicted of. 

"I'm not unhappy, because I'm not guilty of any of the charges.  I've rescued over 50-thousand animals in my life and I'm going to appeal this.  I'm not guilty and this is not going to make me quit rescuing animals," Taylor said Friday. 

The state had to prove three elements on each charge. Prosecutors needed to prove that Taylor assumed or took control of the animals; that she deprived them of sustenance; and that she did so in a cruel manner.

Prosecutors said Taylor left countless animals suffering because she couldn’t take care of them, which Taylor denied. 

In 2015, she was running the shelter out of her home on Lawrence County 170 when the ASPCA seized 329 dogs and cats. Investigators said some of the animals were emaciated, sick or injured. They also reported finding some dead animals.

When the trial started last week, veterinary medicine experts for the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) testified they found conditions "unacceptable" at the shelter.

Vets also testified that dogs at Taylor shelter were found to be malnourished, to have hookworms, whipworms, dehydration and eye discharge. Fifty of 51 cats at Taylor shelter were deemed too thin and more than 50 percent had ear mites and fleas.

Lawrence County Commissioner Mose Jones Jr. testified the county could not afford $200,000 to operate a shelter and it signed a contract with Bobbie Taylor for $80,000 annually.

The defense called several witnesses who depicted Taylor as a woman who ran a clean shelter and provided proper health care.

They painted Taylor as a compassionate animal lover.

Dr. Larry Jacobs, the vet who treated thousands of the animals at the temporary animal facility at Taylor’s home, said he visited the property before the raid in 2015 and saw animals with food and water, and saw properly sized kennels, hay on the floor, as well as kennels that were in the shade or that had partitions over them to provide cover from the sun.

Animals were moving around in the cages, he added, and he saw no signs of illness or injury. 

Taylor testified in her own defense during the trial. She told the jury that she's dedicated her entire life to helping animals. 

"Every animal there was fed daily and watered," Taylor said about the shelter.

She estimated that over the course of her life, she's saved and adopted out more than 50,000 animals. 

Most of the animals that arrived at the shelter were in bad shape and were abused, starved, had mange, needed worming, she testified.

She added that the shelter staff went through the kennels each day to make sure the animals had water, food and a clean bed.

 At one point, Taylor broke down on the stand and cried as she talked about her love of animals and how she sees them as her children. 

When asked if she ever mistreated an animal, Taylor responded: "I hope God strikes me dead if I’ve ever mistreated an animal. I have not. And I don’t lie."

She admitted that at times, she was overwhelmed by the number of animals at the shelter. 

"But I can tell you that I never quit until they were taken care of, each and every one," Taylor added. 

In closing arguments, Taylor's attorney, Tony Hughes, reiterated that she did everything she could to care for the animals at the shelter. 

He said that Lawrence County and the animals under her care were “lucky” to receive her services because she didn’t make any money from the county. He said Taylor “put everything” she had into the animals, including her personal retirement and the monthly payment she got from the county commission to operate the temporary shelter.

Lawrence County Assistant District Attorney Callie Waldrep countered, saying that Taylor considering the animals her children is the perfect analogy because it was her responsibility to take care of them, calling her an "animal hoarder."

"If she couldn’t keep up due to her age and her resources, then she should have put a stop to it instead of taking more and more animals," she said. 

She said Taylor’s $80,000 annual contract with the county didn’t require her to take owner-surrendered animals, ride around picking up animals or operate a no-kill shelter. Waldrep also alleged Taylor failed to implement the adoption clause of her contract, which explains why so many animals were at the shelter.

She said the “most honest explanation” for Taylor’s conduct is that she is “an animal lover” who wanted to “keep them all.” But good intentions are not an excuse to deny animals food, water, shelter and day care, Waldrep said.

She showed the jurors pictures of the animals during her closing arguments and read conditions of the animals Taylor is charged with being cruel to.

"What she did to these animals was a crime," Waldrep stated. "There’s her side and the truth and the truth is, she failed to provide them with food, water and vet care and they suffered for who knows how long because of it."

Taylor said her case sheds light on an ongoing issue in Lawrence County- the fact that they still don't have an animal shelter. Right now, Lawrence County is contracted with Morgan County to take only small animals.  

"I’m sad for the animals of this county because we don’t have a facility and we’re broke," Taylor said during the trial.

In January, the Lawrence County Commission on Friday morning decided to hire individual contractors to build an animal shelter on Parker Road near the county jail.

Morgan County had previously agreed to take Lawrence County’s strays for $20 an animal with a firm end date of March 1. The Lawrence commission agreed to begin paying a local group, called Changing 42 Rescue, $20 an animal plus $1,000 a month until the new shelter is built. The new shelter is expected to be completed in late spring. 

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) released this statement on Friday:

Thanks to the diligence of the Moulton Police Department and Lawrence County Prosecutor’s Office, Bobbie Taylor was held accountable for the pain and suffering she caused animals under her care. The jury stood up for these voiceless victims and let it be known that animal cruelty will not be tolerated in their community. More than two years ago, the ASPCA played a significant role in this case by assisting local authorities in seizing more than 300 animals from the Lawrence County Animal Shelter. We provided ongoing care for the animals until they could be reunited with their owners or adopted into loving homes.

Lawrence County Commissioner Bradley Cross was one of Taylor's supporters who attended the trial and on Friday, he reacted to the outcome stating: It takes a cold-hearted person to convict her for any kind of cruelty when all kinds of animals were brought to her in bad shape. What about the other 200 or so dogs and cats that were there and were fine? They picked out just a few."

Sentencing will be May 22.

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