NORTHWOOD | An attorney for a North Iowa woman accused of running a puppy mill argues she did not neglect her animals and should be allowed to keep 13 of the 154 animals seized by the county, documents said.
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.
A total of 154 dogs were seized during an animal neglect-related search warrant Nov. 12. Kavars signed a document surrendering all but the 13 animals she wants to keep.
Her attorney Michael Byrne filed a brief Wednesday, claiming that the 13 animals should be returned to her regardless of whether they are found to be “threatened” or not.
Byrne wrote Kavars' care for the animals is "adequate given the cleanliness of facilities and the completion of cleaning as testified in court for the additional kennel space and the cleaning of the house to standards which can be maintained with reasonable number of dogs."
Winnebago County Attorney Kelsey Beenken, who is also an assistant Worth County, filed a brief earlier in the week arguing that the 13 animals should be declared “threatened animals” and should not be returned to Kavars.
Kavars, who claims she did not neglect the animals, has not been charged with a crime. ASPCA says charges are pending.
Kavars testified Dec. 4 that she has cleaned part of her home and three of her 32 kennels since her dogs were seized.
She said she began to struggle with the size and upkeep of White Fire Kennels, her breeding operation, after her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2014. He died in June 2017.
After his death, Kavars began releasing dogs to the Humane Society of North Iowa while still selling puppies.
Byrne argues that the animals were not neglected and Kavars was doing the best she could.
“Barb is a successful breeder of Samoyed dogs for 20 years, originally licensed with the USDA and later with the Iowa Department of Agriculture,” Byrne said.
Worth County Deputy Andy Grunhovd visited her property near Manly when the Humane Society and the Animal Rescue League of Iowa raised concerns about the number of dogs on the property and possible neglect.
Byrne said the seizure of Kavars' animals is a "privatization of law enforcement" and that ASPCA staff is "attempting to define and determine the facts and standards to be applied" in the case.
While Byrne states in his conclusion that the cats are all 14 to 15-years-old, one of the cats requested is 18-years-old.
“No one else is going to want those cats and love them,” he said.
Byrne said the cats have been raised by Kavars and have all been house cats at her home for their entire lives.
“If Barb does not have those four cats returned to her, they will likely be euthanized due to their age and care requirements,” he said. “Barb opposes any unnecessary euthanasia for pets she considers to be part of her family.”
ASPCA staff are caring for the cats and dogs Kavars is requesting at an undisclosed location in Iowa.
“They did not suffer from neglect but were cared for under difficult conditions where Mrs. Kavars put the welfare of the outside animals first, her indoor animals second and her own maintenance and care last,” Byrne said.
Byrne noted that Kavars let the condition of her home slide so she could have time to care for the dogs. He called the condition of her house “messy.”
“There were no life-threatening conditions in the house, and it was not unfit for human habitation or the Sheriff’s office would have had an obligation to removed Mrs. Kavars from the home at that point as well,” Byrne said.
Grunhovd said in his testimony that if there had been a dependent adult or child living in the home, they would have been removed.
“Barb’s dilemma in this case was establishing a balance between her relationship with the animals she loves and the financial drain she struggled with in providing care for the dogs essentially by herself,” Byrne said. “The Sheriff’s office has alleged Barb was a hoarder when the only thing collecting about the house seemed to be food and animal care containers or items.”
Byrne also dismissed the issue of ammonia smell due to urine in feces because Kavars suffered no ill effect of the smell. He believes that Kavars was demonized in court.
“The military like invasion of the property by over 40 quasi-law enforcement officials and designees was unwarranted,” Byrne said, claiming Kavars would have been cooperative with transferring the animals in another way.
On the day of the seizure, Grunhovd said he had to step over an immobile dog named Myles to walk into the house.
Myles, an 11-year-old blind male, was unable to stand or walk on his own.
According to Dr. Elizabeth Pearlman, an ASPCA forensic veterinarian, Myles 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.
Myles 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 Myles until he died. Pearlman said he was humanely euthanized after the seizure, and said failure to do so could constitute neglect.
Byrne claimed Myles had only started to show these problems of inability to get up for three to four days prior.
Kavars said that if he was lying in a puddle of his own urine, it was because nobody helped him outside to go to the bathroom on the day of the seizure.
For part of the day during the seizure, Kavars was sitting inside of a deputy’s vehicle.
“She was not allowed to assist in the care of the dogs that day,” Byrne said. “Myles was surrendered by Barb under pressure and was euthanized by authorities after they assumed ownership.”
One of the dogs Kavars is seeking custody of is pregnant. The pregnant dog is considered "thin" on the Purina Body Condition Score. Pearlman said the dog is breaking down its own muscle to feed the growing puppies as she does not have enough fat stores.
Byrne claims that the ASPCA veterinarian and others involved were substituting their educational and personal preferences and opinions for the state law definition of “neglect.”
Byrne noted that Pearlman had “concerns” regarding the dog’s care but they do not meet the meaning of “neglect” though they may violate breeding requirements imposed by the Iowa Department of Agriculture.
Both Grunhovd and ASPCA Investigator Kyle Held said there was not enough food or water provided for the dogs.
Byrne included that the constant presence and access to food and water is not required by state law.
“The officer testified at one point that his response to Mrs. Kavars was ‘you can call me for an emergency but I’m not here to give you help,’” Byrne said.
According to his testimony, Grunhovd told Kavars this after he helped her load an injured dog, Yeager.
“I’m not here to help care for animals,” Grunhovd said.
During testimony, 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 that it is not normal for the county to offer so much assistance to a business.
“Barb Kavars properly responded to care for an injured animal after it was attacked by another dog by separating the animals and then on her own pulling the dog on a tarp to her car so she could get it to the vet,” Byrne said.
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.
Beenken will submit a response to Byrne’s brief by the end of the day Friday.
Magistrate Douglas Krull is expected to rule on Kavars' ownership claim of the 13 animals by the end of the month.