Whatcom County man accused of running puppy mill

Published on Wed, Apr 25, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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A Whatcom County man has been accused of animal cruelty after Whatcom Humane Society (WHS) officers seized nearly 50 dogs from his property.

Kenneth Cassell has been cited for 21 counts of second degree animal cruelty, 42 counts of failure to provide the legally-required living space for dog breeding and 40 counts of failure to provide water. WHS animal control officers raided his property just northeast of the BP Cherry Point Refinery on April 6 after conducting a months-long investigation into his miniature Australian shepherd breeding program.

“We have had Mr. Cassell on our radar for quite some time,” WHS executive director Laura Clark said. “Officers have made repeated attempts to warn [him] about the conditions.”

During the raid, Clark said officers found 48 dogs of varying ages with matted fur and overgrown toenails kept in kennels smaller than required by Washington state law. Clark said many of the dogs barked incessantly and were terrified when taken outdoors, all signs they have been confined in their kennels for long periods of time. Clark said the dogs were also kept without sufficient water and were underweight.

“It’s pretty shocking to see this many animals kept in these conditions, and it can be really heartbreaking,” Clark said.

In an April 23 interview with The Northern Light at his property, Cassell said the WHS accusations were lies. Cassell, who said he has been breeding miniature Australian shepherds since 1992, said animal control officers had been to his place before, but always left his property saying his animals and their living conditions were fine.

“All I can say is that I’ve been set up,” Cassell said. “I think they used false information to get a search and seizure order.”

The dogs spent plenty of time outside and started each day with a walk of just more than half a mile, Cassell asserted. He said the dogs and kennels appeared dirty when the officers came on April 6 only because he had not had a chance to clean them out that morning.

According to Cassell, the dogs were housed in his barn during cold weather months in the evenings. The barn has a heater that comes on if the temperature gets below 40 degrees and a water supply independent of the house, in case the house’s pipes freeze, he explained.

Come spring, Cassell said he would let most of the dogs sleep outside if the weather was warm enough. He predicted his dogs would have been living outside by May, given the wet weather April has brought so far.

“I’d prefer they stay outside,” Cassell said. “They’re happier outside.”

Cassell sold 38 puppies last year and generally asks between $400 and $700 for each dog, depending on age. He maintains his breeding program as a hobby and also runs a welding and fabricating business.

He said prospective owners usually came to his property to view the dogs, adding that 90 percent of people who came buy his barn bought a dog. Cassell said that was evidence the dogs’ living conditions were not as bad as the WHS has described them.

Clark said the WHS are usually tipped off about animal cruelty cases by concerned neighbors. She said at least one of Cassell’s neighbors had made multiple complaints about the dogs’ living conditions to WHS officers.

“We’re complaint driven,” Clark said. “We answer calls based on someone calling in and complaining.”

Cassell said none of his neighbors ever complained to him about how he treats his dogs. He said his neighbors enjoy interacting with his dogs when he takes the dogs on walks.

Helen Densmore has lived just down the street from Cassell since 2003 and said she has never seen Cassell mistreat his dogs. She said she regularly saw Cassell take multiple dogs on walks two or three times a day.

“They were very friendly dogs,” Densmore said. “To me, they looked well cared for. I think [what WHS did] was kind of unfair to him.”

Cassell admitted that he had pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor animal cruelty charge in 2004. He paid a $300 fine after animal control seized a few dogs and two horses that he said he “could have taken better care of.”

Clark said the WHS and its two animal shelters will need to care for the seized dogs, which will be considered evidence until the case is resolved. Only then can the WHS consider putting them up for adoption.

“We’ve had many cases before where it’s dragged through the system for several months, and we hope it’s not the case in this instance,” Clark said.

Cassell is scheduled to make an appearance in Whatcom County district court on Friday, April 27.

Above, right: Two of the 48 animals seized from Kenneth Cassell’s property stand in a Whatcom Humane Society truck on April 6. Photo courtesy of Whatcom Humane Society.