Seizure of 115 animals costs tens of thousands of dollars

Property owner cited with 115 counts of animal cruelty

Keywords: Cortez, Crime, Animal,
The property where about 115 animals were seized on suspicion of animal cruelty. This photo was taken in 2016. Enlargephoto

Durango Herald file

The property where about 115 animals were seized on suspicion of animal cruelty. This photo was taken in 2016.

The La Plata County Humane Society has already incurred at least $43,000 in costs associated with caring for about 115 animals that were seized last month as part of a massive animal-cruelty case.

The Human Society is on track to shell out more than $67,000 for a 30-day period since the animals were seized Nov. 15, La Plata County Animal Control Director Travis Woehrel said Tuesday.

Elizabeth Miera, who is charged with 105 counts of animal cruelty, filed a motion Nov. 24 seeking to “stop the fees and costs” and to set the case for a probable cause hearing, in which prosecutors must convince a judge that a crime was committed and she is connected with it. The motion also asked prosecutors to show the fees and costs being assessed by the Humane Society are reasonable and necessary.

Woehrel said Tuesday that Jeffrey Jackson, who owns the property near County Road 122, was also cited with 115 counts of animal cruelty in connection with the case. The relationship between Jackson and Miera is not clear.

Woehrel said Animal Protection hopes to add 10 more counts of animal cruelty to Miera’s case to be consistent with Jackson’s charges.

Miera waived her right to the probable cause hearing Monday in La Plata County Court.

As a result, ownership of the animals is expected to be transferred to the Humane Society, which will give it the ability to seek permanent placement for the animals.

La Plata County Animal Protection seized one cat, one duck, two chickens, three cows, seven sheep, 13 dogs, 17 pigs and 61 goats. The list apparently excludes about 10 animals, including a horse that was euthanized.

The seizure occurred Nov. 15 at Jackson’s property in southwest La Plata County. It capped a “lengthy investigation based on animal cruelty allegations” that included the assistance of multiple agencies.

The cost for each of the seized animals includes a $20 boarding fee (per day), $40 impound fee and $640 cost-of-care fee, which can include vaccines and medical care, according to a notice of costs filed by Animal Protection in La Plata County Court.

Woehrel said once the judge signs the order transferring the animals to the Humane Society, officials can begin the process that will allow the animals to go up for adoption.

He said funds collected from the adoption will go to the cost of care for the animals, but if Miera and Jackson are convicted, they will still be on the hook for the price of the first 20 days of impoundment.

“The longer we have them, the more we have to pay ... which could impact us going forward with the programs we offer,” Woehrel said. “That’s why getting them adopted is priority No. 1.”

Miera declined to comment when approached by a reporter Monday at La Plata County Courthouse.

She is being represented by public defender Christian Izaguirre.

Izaguirre sought to have the hearing rescheduled Monday, but Judge James Denvir denied the request, saying the Humane Society is racking up thousands of dollars in costs with little reassurance of recouping the expenses.

The judge acknowledged having limited knowledge about the case but suggested the Humane Society could possibly work with Miera to improve conditions at her property so she could be reunited with at least some of her animals.

After the hearing, Chris Nelson, director of Animal Protection Services, said he has little hope for returning any of the animals to Miera.

“As far as I’m concerned, no,” he said.

Seizing so many animals is “taxing resources tremendously,” both in terms of labor and financial obligations, Nelson said. Anyone who wants to help the Humane Society can do so by making financial donations, he said.

The animals are being cared for, he said, and the dogs are now in “fantastic health.”

Woehrel said authorities were forced to leave a number of chickens and ducks behind, but Animal Protection has sought the DA office’s input on whether to go back and seize the animals.

“During the original seizure, most of the birds were in a situation we found that were just too dangerous to go in and get them,” said Woehrel, adding ducks were found underneath a trailer in murky water.

shane@durangoherald.com

Animal Control officers and Chris Nelson, director of Animal Protection Services, center, exit the La Plata County Courthouse on Monday after attending a hearing in which Elizabeth Miera is charged with 105 counts of animal cruelty. Enlargephoto

Shane Benjamin/Durango Herald

Animal Control officers and Chris Nelson, director of Animal Protection Services, center, exit the La Plata County Courthouse on Monday after attending a hearing in which Elizabeth Miera is charged with 105 counts of animal cruelty.