Posted 04 February 2009 - 09:20 PM
Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009
Judge awards birds to city
By Terry Evans
Mother and child macaws could be used in city programs.
Weatherford/Parker County Animal Shelter was awarded custody Jan. 27 of 88 birds seized Jan. 13 from John Dennett.
Appearing before Municipal Judge Ben Sasin, Dennnett, 46, sat at the far end of a table facing prosecuting attorney Kathy Zellers.
Representing himself, Dennett listened as Zellers presented a list of mostly exotic birds and photos of the conditions in which those birds were living at 111 Seventh St. His only objection to the evidence was that the list was inaccurate.
"Whoever made this list doesnít know what theyíre talking about," he said.
To the photographs, however, Dennettís response was mumbled. Sasin allowed the list and photos to be entered into evidence.
Zellers called Animal Control Officer Tammy Wright and Animal Shelter Supervisor Diane Daniel as witnesses.
Wright and Daniel, who took the photographs, testified that Dennettís house was, with the exception of a bedroom, in deplorable condition. Floors were covered with bird feces and contaminated food as much as 11 inches deep in places.
They added that the house was suffocatingly hot.
The women said that a number of gas space heaters and the cook stove were burning, and that combined with the heavy amonia smell from the bird droppings the air was almost unbreathable.
Wright, who has exotic birds of her own, explained that such conditions create an environment in which diseases may develop that not only are deadly to birds, but also may be transmitted to humans.
Compounding the problem was the fact that Dennett had almost 90 birds in a house that officials said was 1,040 square feet. Dennett argued that his house is 1,800 square feet, but the point seemed moot.
At its basis, the cruelty complaint against Dennett was that he simply had far more birds than he possibly could care for. Most people, Wright said, find that one macaw is a challenge. There were eight macaws in Dennettís home.
Daniel testified that many water and food dishes in cages, most of which contained more than one bird, were contaminated by feces. Wright said that it is imperative that fresh food and water be provided daily to these kinds of birds.
Wright said that she and other animal control officers had monitored Dennettís case since their first encounter two years ago. She said that Dennett was warned then that he had an unlawful accumulation of exotic birds and needed to find homes for many of them.
Instead of doing so, Dennett continued to advertise himself on the Internet as a nonprofit bird rescue organization, Wright said, and continued to accumulate exotic birds.
During cross-examination, Dennett asked Wright why the city didnít take some of the birds during the initial contact, as he asked. Wright adamantly denied that the man had made any such request.
Dennett called his wife, Theresa Dennett, as a witness and tried to refute some of the testimony.
"Were those birds fed and watered every day?" he asked.
"Yes, food and water were changed every day when I came home from work," she said.
Theresa Dennett also testified that her husband was unable to work or do much around the house, because he had broken his back. She said it was her responsibility to clean the cages and take care of the house.
She also said that the birds were never mistreated, and that some of them were "like children" to her and her husband. On the verge of breaking into tears she told Sasin that she wanted only a few of the birds back.
After Zellers finished cross-examination, Theresa Dennett hurriedly left the courtroom and sat on a bench in the City Hall foyer, with her head in her hands, for the balance of the hearing.
Zellers asked Sasin not only to award custody of the birds to the city, but also to assess to Dennett the cityís expenses, beginning with costs incurred during the seizure and including food and veterinary care since then.
Dennett told Sasin that he could not pay the assessment.
"I donít have a job, canít work, backís messed up," he said. "I canít pay anything, just take me to jail if Iím assessed anything."
Passing judgment, Sasin said it was the courtís goal to take care of the birds.
"The court finds the defendant guilty of cruelty to these birds and remands the animals to the custody of the animal shelter," he said.
Sasin added that Dennett would be responsible for reimbursing the city.
Dennett also was charged with several code violations.
A group of animal control and shelter employees who sat with Daniel and Wright through the hearing left with them after the judgeís decision.
They met immediately in City Manager Jerry Blaisdellís office to discuss the birdsí future.
Daniel said the birds will be kept in quarantine for at least two weeks before anything is done with them.
Some may be adopted out, some sent to rescue groups that city employees confirm as genuine nonprofit organizations.
Blaisdell said that many of the birds are worth thousands of dollars in the retail pet trade, so they would not be subject to standard adoption protocol.
"We donít want people adopting these birds just so they can turn a profit," he said. "Weíre looking at adoptions; but weíre talking about auctions with minimum bids."
Blaisdell added that he would like to see the city keep some of the birds for educational programs. Many of them are talented and gentle enough to be taken into classrooms.
There was talk of building an aviary at the animal shelter.
But Daniel said one thing is certain: none of the birds will be going anywhere until about Valentineís Day.