Lawyer: Animal cruelty charges ‘absurd’
MAYFIELD The lawyer representing animal rescue facility operator Susan Kelly said the animal cruelty and welfare fraud charges filed against his client this week “are absurd and crazy.”
Gloversville attorney Michael W. Smrtic was highly critical Thursday of Monday’s raid at his client’s rescue shelter, Kelly’s Haven on Route 349 in Mayfield.
Kelly was charged this week with one misdemeanor count of animal cruelty stemming from the discovery of a dead pigeon in a cage and three welfare-fraud related counts based on allegations Kelly used some of the donations to her shelter to support herself.
As officials of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shipped out about 300 animals this week to shelters throughout the Northeast, Kelly’s home on Route 349 in Mayfield was condemned and authorities would not let her back on the property, Smrtic said.
He said Fulton County Sheriff’s Department investigators exceeded their authority and based their raid on a faulty search warrant.
Fulton County District Attorney Louise K. Sira said Smrtic’s claims “are contrary to what investigators reported to my office.”
Though officials said they have been trying to work with Kelly for the past year to reduce the number of animals in her care, Smrtic said it appears complaints that led to the investigation may have originated with a rival animal rescue group that objected to Kelly’s use of cages.
The 59-year-old Kelly, who has been operating her facility for about a decade, is scheduled to appear in court Aug. 23.
“This is a woman who is doing exactly what she should be doing to take care of animals,” Smrtic said, asserting the animals were well-fed and that unsanitary conditions cited by investigators are nothing more than housekeeping issues.
“This lady is not abusing her animals,” he said, citing recent veterinary bills of $3,400 incurred at the shelter.
Officials said Monday the welfare fraud charges formed the basis for the search warrant.
Smrtic said Kelly originally disclosed on her welfare applications that she received donations for her not-for-profit shelter and was instructed by staffers at the Fulton County Department of Social Services to omit that information on future applications. Now, Smrtic said, the omission of donation information is being used to charge her.
Sira countered that the welfare fraud charges are based on determinations that donations for the shelter were deposited in Kelly’s personal account.
The animal cruelty charge is also baseless, Smrtic said. He said the pigeon was 13 years old and when it died in recent days the food and water were removed from the cage. He said Kelly did not have time to remove the bird before the raid.
A dead dog also found on the premises, Smrtic said, was dropped off the day before in poor condition. He said people often dropped off animals in the middle of the night and departed without contacting Kelly.
“She has been doing a great service,” Smrtic said of his client.
Sira said Kelly cannot be allowed to continued residing in a condemned house. She said investigators advised her to seek shelter with a relative but Kelly insisted on living in her truck, which is parked on the property.