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Animal cruelty charges dropped against shelter owner

July 09, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

PLEASANT HALL, Pa. -- Animal cruelty charges were dropped Thursday against the owner of Angel Hill Animal Sanctuary in exchange for a change in the shelter's leadership.

Sanctuary Executive Director Wanda Davenport was charged in early 2009 with several offenses, including animal cruelty resulting from neglect.

The charges were connected to dogs living at the sanctuary.

Assistant Franklin County (Pa.) District Attorney Bret Alison Beynon said the plea agreement was a win-win situation for both parties.

As a no-kill shelter, the sanctuary on Warm Spring Road in Hamilton Township near Marion, Pa., provides a much-needed service in the community and while Davenport allegedly violated Pennsylvania dog law, the county does not want to close the sanctuary entirely, Beynon said.

The agreement reached Thursday allows Angel Hill Animal Sanctuary to stay open while also allowing some justice to be served, Beynon said.

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Davenport was charged with two counts of dogs living in spaces too small, one count of a dog living in its own waste and a summary count of cruelty based on neglect.

The county offered to not prosecute the charges against Davenport if she agreed to step down as owner and director of Angel Hill and the sanctuary's board of directors agreed to replace her with someone who is not a relative of Davenport.

Davenport has been director since Angel Hill opened in 2004. The nonprofit kennel and shelter was built on Davenport's farm.

Franklin County Dog Law Officer Georgia Martin brought the charges against Davenport after multiple inspections at the sanctuary revealed it to be noncompliant with state dog laws.

Despite disputing the charges against her, Davenport agreed to step down in the interest of the animals and of ending the controversy that has surrounded Angel Hill for years, said her attorney, W. Scott Arnoult.

"My first and main concern is for the dogs," Davenport said.

She explained that agreeing to step down guaranteed the dogs at Angel Hill would live.

"Many of these are unadoptable dogs so if we were ordered to cease and desist, most of them would be sent directly to a kill shelter and euthanized," she said.

Beynon said people have compared the sanctuary to a death camp, she said, adding that those claims are "outrageous."

Martin also has received strong criticism for her role in the case.

She defended her actions saying, "I don't want to see Angel Hill shut down, I want to see it in compliance."

As for Davenport, she claims to have lost support from the community over the charges.

"I no longer get free dog food, and some vets have refused to work with me all because of these allegations," she said. "I just hope, for the dogs' sake, that in time this can turn around."

Angel Hill Animal Sanctuary was last inspected April 24, Martin said.

At that time, it was found to be satisfactory.

Pennsylvania requires at least two annual inspections of licensed kennels housing more than 26 dogs.

Davenport said 38 dogs and about 20 cats call Angel Hill Animal Sanctuary home.

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