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ND puppy mill owner gets 2 years' probation

FARGO — A Cass County judge has sentenced a former Wheatland puppy mill owner to two years of supervised probation, during which he cannot have dogs, in exchange for his guilty plea to animal neglect.

Darcy Darrell Smith, 51, didn’t attend his sentencing hearing in Cass County District Court on Monday because of furnace problems due to cold weather, according to his public defender.

Defense attorney Gordon Dexheimer said Smith, the former owner of about 170 dogs seized last July by sheriff’s deputies after they were found matted, living in their own filth and stuffed sometimes five to a kennel, “actually loves animals very much.”

Some of the animals confiscated by deputies had not been groomed for so long they were immobilized by their own matted fur, authorities said.

Dexheimer said many of Smith’s dogs got sick during a cold, wet spring. While caring for them, Smith missed the six- to eight-week window of opportunity during which local businesses usually take the puppies for sale, he said.

“It simply got out of hand. … It began to snowball on him with the animals,” Dexheimer said.

Cass County prosecutor Leah Viste told Judge Douglas Herman that if people who owned Wheatland-bred dogs knew what kind of conditions the animals had been kept in, they would be horrified.

Viste said the cost of restoring the animals to good health and housing them would have been more than $100,000 if not for the donations of time and money from Casselton Veterinary Service and animal rescue volunteers.

Money donated to a benefit fund for the rescued dogs helped offset the cost of their care, which ultimately cost taxpayers about $30,000. Restitution was not sought, Viste said.

Viste also said she was not seeking jail time for Smith because he has no history of animal abuse, he has cooperated with authorities since the seizure, and his behavior did not appear to be a deliberately-inflicted form of cruelty.

She asked Herman to sentence Smith to 100 hours of community service.

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