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Manly puppy mill: Owner says dogs 'overwhelmed' her, but has 'so much more time' for ones she wants to keep

NORTHWOOD | A North Iowa woman accused of running a puppy mill testified in court Tuesday that caring for the 154 dogs became overwhelming following the death of her husband last year. 

Barbara Kavars, 65, Manly, is asking the Worth County Magistrate Court to allow her to keep nine Samoyeds and four cats seized by the Worth County Sheriff's Office and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals last month.

Kavars claims she didn't neglect the animals and said she has cleaned part of her home and three of her 32 kennels since her dogs were seized.

“I will have so much more time for them,” Kavars said. “My dogs were well-groomed when I had time.”

The animals were seized during an animal neglect-related search warrant. Kavars has not been charged with a crime, but the ASPCA says charges are pending.

Kavars, who took notes throughout the hearing Monday, testified in court Tuesday afternoon as the only witness for her attorney, Michael Byrne.

Magistrate Douglas Krull ordered the media to not photograph or record Kavars while she was on the stand. Byrne argued it would cause her emotional stress.

Video: ASPCA removes 170 dogs from Worth County puppy mill

Kavars said things had been difficult since her husband was diagnosed with cancer in January 2014. The couple had been breeding Samoyeds since 1998.

“I realized I would be doing everything myself,” she said.

She said care for her husband got in the way of the dogs right away.

Kavars’ husband died in June 2017, and that’s when things started getting more and more out of control.

“I was feeling overwhelmed with him being gone,” she said. Her husband had done most of the heavy lifting before he became ill.

Photos: 10 Iowa puppy mills on Humane Society watch list for inhumane conditions

Kavars claimed she had contacted agencies to take some of the dogs before 2017 but some organizations “would not work with a breeder.”

“I was a little overwhelmed in 2018,” Kavars said. “Feeding and caring for the animals was more important than cleaning at the time.”

Authorities expressed concerns about the dogs' matted coats and overgrown nails. 

“Grooming came after maintaining the food and water,” she said. “I also felt it was more important to give the dogs attention and love all the time, too.”

In 2018, her vet told her that the Humane Society of North Iowa would take some of the dogs.

Kavars estimated that through the year, she has released about 100 dogs to the Humane Society.

Exhibit 31.pdf

Worth County Sheriff’s Deputy Andy Grunhovd said Monday that he was initially called out to the property due to some concern over the number of dogs Kavars had.

ASPCA officials said the dogs' water buckets were frozen.

Kavars allegedly told Grunhovd she didn't give the dogs water every day during the winter because they liked to eat snow and ice. She rebutted that claim in court, saying she gave them water every day. 

Grunhovd noted the snow was on top of feces and urine.

Abandoned pets rescued by the Humane Society of North Iowa (with photos)

“It’s an easy way for the animals to get dehydrated,” he said.

ASPCA Forensic Veterinarian Dr. Elizabeth Pearlman said snow and ice are not enough water for the dogs.

“Drinking ice has the opposite effect of what you might think,” Pearlman said. She said ice can burn tongues from licking and forces the body to work harder to warm up the liquid.

ASPCA Investigator Kyle Held said in his testimony that the dogs’ frozen water buckets contained deep lick marks, meaning the dogs were working hard to get water.

According to Pearlman, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska does not allow the dogs to eat snow. The dogs are given fresh, warm drinking water.

Exhibit 2A-2B Yeager.pdf

On Nov. 6, Grunhovd said he saw Kavars dragging a tarp through her yard when he visited. Inside the tarp was a dog named Yeager. 

According to Kavars, the dog was injured in a fight with another dog. The other dog was able to get into Yeager’s kennel due to a fallen tree by the fence, according to Grunhovd.

Grunhovd said he assisted her with getting the dog into her vehicle so she could take him to the vet in Forest City.

“I wasn’t sure if it was dead or alive, then it lifted its head up,” Grunhovd said Monday. 

The dog, which Grunhovd testified smelled of feces, was caked in mud and had an open wound on its back, died within two days of going to the vet.

“I’m not here to help care for animals,” Grunhovd said.

Byrne asked if the the sheriff’s department or the county offered to help Kavars or provide additional assistance.

Grunhovd said the county did not offer and later added, after additional questioning by Winnebago County Attorney Kelsey Beenken, that it is not normal for the county to offer so much assistance to a business.

Beenken is representing Worth County in this case. 

White Fire Kennels is considered a business as she was selling dogs as recently as the Nov. 11, the day before the animals were seized.

“The sheriff’s office has provided significant resources to this business,” he said. “She should be responsible for her own business.”

That week, Grunhovd drafted two search warrants, one for the property to get a better look at the animals and another for an autopsy on Yeager.

Exhibit 10.pdf

According to her testimony, Kavars said she had continued to sell puppies as she was releasing older male dogs to the Humane Society of North Iowa.

“The Humane Society can’t be an overstock for all unsellable dogs,” Grunhovd said.

One of the dogs Kavars wants to keep is pregnant. 

"If we were to reward back a dog that is pregnant, we will be back in this situation next year," Pearlman said during her testimony late Monday afternoon.

Photos: Inside a puppy mill

Kavars repeatedly told him she wanted to get rid of some of the dogs, Grunhovd testified, but every time she let go of a few of them, more puppies were born.

The pregnant dog is considered "thin" on the Purina Body Condition Score. According to Pearlman, the dog is breaking down its own muscle to feed the growing puppies as she does not have enough fat stores.

Pearlman said many of the dogs were underweight and cited instances of severe matting and progresses dental diseases. She also mentioned several dogs with “flea dirt” or flea feces, meaning that the dog had previously or currently has fleas.

Kavars appeared to keep her head down, occasionally making notes, when images of the dogs were shown Monday afternoon.  

Pearlman said she also noticed visible intestinal parasites hanging from the dogs' rectums and has some concern of “parisitis spreading like wildfire” due to the unsanitary conditions.

Exhibit 27.pdf

Byrne argued that since all the animals were removed, Kavars would have plenty of room for the 13 animals and the puppies to be born.

He showed more recent photos of the house, which showed where Kavars had recently cleaned. 

To walk into the house, Grunhovd said he had to step over an immobile dog named Miles.

Miles, an 11-year-old blind male, was unable to stand or walk on his own. 

According to Pearlman, Miles was in critical condition and was showing signs of dehydration. He was laying in a puddle of his own urine and could not access his food and water bowls several feet away. 

Miles was immediately taken to an animal hospital where it was discovered that he had a heart-based tumor, a severely enlarged prostate and arthritis among other issues.

Kavars initially wanted to keep Miles until he died. Pearlman said he was humanely euthanized after the seizure, and said failure to do so could constitute neglect. 

Grunhovd, Held and Pearlman all noted the strong smell of ammonia in the house.

“You couldn’t catch your breath,” Grunhovd said.

Byrne asked if ammonia exposure had any effects on dogs.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure of ammonia exposure but it literally burns your nose and throat,” Pearlman said.

Kavars claims that while there may have been “some” ammonia odor that day from saturated puppy pee pads in the home, there was not usually an ammonia odor.

“The pee pads was for the dogs in the house because I was so busy caring for the outside dogs,” Kavars said. “I wanted an area for then to use so they didn’t use the whole house.”

She said the house got messy because she was so focused on the dogs outside.

“I did feel that they were more important than myself and the house,” she said, claiming she was unaffected by the ammonia smell in her home. 

Kavars said she knew about 150 dogs by sight, but had trouble identifying some in photographs. 

She recalled being upset the day they were seized.

“All those people were terrorizing my dogs,” she said. “I wanted to calm them, but I wasn’t allowed.”

ASPCA 

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals volunteers rescue 170 dogs from a puppy mill at a home west of Manly on Monday. The dogs were found in "appalling and overcrowded conditions," according to a press release.

Kavars claimed she was rushed and pressured into signing the surrender agreement.

“She was under no pressure to surrender the animals,” Grunhovd said. “We asked her how many she was willing to release, and she couldn't give a number.”

Kavars said Held told her how many she could keep and she negotiated.

“It was hard to pick nine dogs,” she said. “There were so many special dogs that I had.”

Kavars said she was under the impression that the animals she selected would remain with her.

“I guess that day I was very stressed,” she said, also claiming that she did not know she was actually releasing the dogs to the county. 

At the end of the day, Kavars was given a copy of the search warrant and a receipt of seized items and animals.

Kavars said that she would not continue breeding if the dogs were returned. When Beenken asked if the dogs would be spayed and neutered, she said she was unsure. 

She also said that she believes that her dogs, in general, were in good health. Officials have said many of the dogs were in need of medical care. 

Krull is expected to rule on Kavars' request for custody of the 13 animals before the Christmas holiday.

Photos: Inside the kennels, home of a North Iowa woman accused of running a puppy mill

Photos: Inside the kennels, home of a North Iowa woman accused of running a puppy mill

Photos: North Iowa woman accused of operating puppy mill appears in court

Photos: North Iowa woman accused of operating puppy mill appears in court

Local
topicaltop story
Firefighter-owned Osage brewery making California IPA to benefit wildfire victims

OSAGE | On Giving Tuesday, the owner/operators of Limestome Brewers began brewing an IPA designed by a northern California brewery to raise money for wildfire victims. 

Josh Olson and Tony Wynohrad are doing a one-time brew of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.'s Resilience Butte County Proud IPA.

Sierra Nevada shared its recipe with 1,100 other brewers across the nation to raise money for victims of the Camp Fire Wildfire that devastated the northern part of their state and displaced almost 10 percent of their workforce. Over 20 brewers in Iowa are participating. 

Olson and Wynohrad have 25 years of combined experience as members of the Osage Fire Department. 

"This is about giving back," Wynohrad said. 

All proceeds will benefit wildfire victims. 

Olson said they hope to release the IPA, which will only be served in the brewery, by the end of December. 

On Nov. 25, authorities announced the wildfire had been contained within 153,336 acres. Heavy rain helped contain the fire. 

Named after its area of origin, Camp Fire is the deadliest, most destructive wildfire to date in California. 

Fueled by dry conditions and wind, the wildfire ignited in a rural area Nov. 8 and consumed the town of Paradise and other nearby communities, killing 85 people. Nearly 250 people are missing, and at least 12 civilians and five firefighters were hurt. 

About 19,000 buildings, many of them homes, were destroyed in the blaze.  

Damage is estimated between $7.5 billion and $10 billion.


Jim Cross / CHRYSTAL BERCHE THE PRESS-NEWS 

Josh Olson (left) and Tony Wynohrad (right) stirring one of four large bins of grains and materials with a wooden paddle to mix things up before the vat was closed to begin the brewing process.


Crime-and-courts
breakingfeatured
Iowa dad sentenced to life in death of infant son who died from diaper rash, malnutrition

NEW HAMPTON -- A former Alta Vista man has been sentenced to life in prison in the neglect death of his infant son in 2017.

Judge Richard Stochl sentenced Zachary Paul Koehn, 29, to life in prison without parole on a first-degree murder charge. The sentence was mandatory under state law.

A child endangerment charge merged with the murder charge.

Koehn's 4-month-old son, Sterling, was found dead in a swing seat in his Alta Vista apartment in August 2017. Doctors said Sterling died of dehydration, malnutrition and infection from diaper rash. An entomologist testified that maggots in the baby's diaper indicated it hadn't been changed in at least a week.

A Henry County jury found Koehn guilty in an October trial following a venue change out of Chickasaw County.

Sterling's mother, 21-year-old Cheyanne Harris, is also charged, and her trial will be in Le Mars in January.

The sentencing came after Stochl turned down Koehn's request for a new trial. His attorneys argued that evidence didn't back the murder charge because there were no actions Koehn took that led to the child's death.

Assistant Attorney General Denise Timmins argued that there was no way Koehn could have been unaware of his son's condition because he and Harris lived in the same small apartment, and Koehn admitted to entering the baby's room during the child's last days.

"Every action the defendant chose to do in that apartment that did not involve caring for (Sterling) was a choice, an act, which lead to (Sterling's) death," Timmins argued in a motion challenging the defense's new trial request. "Choosing to let your child slowly die a painful death is no less unlawful than beating your child's head against a wall until the child dies."

Photos: Zachary Koehn in court for death of infant son

Photos: Zachary Koehn murder case
Photos: Zachary Koehn baby death case

JEFF REINITZ, Waterloo Courier 

Zachary Koehn, flanked by defense attorneys Les Blair and Steven Drahozal, listens to testimony on Nov. 6, 2018.