KATU Special Report: Dog laws, no teeth

KATU Special Report: Dog laws, no teeth »Play Video
MILWAUKIE, Ore. - Oregon's animal cruelty laws are considered some of the toughest in the country.
    
But do local agencies have the manpower and the authority to really get tough on every violator?

KATU News took a look inside a local kennel accused of neglect to uncover a disturbing truth about Oregon's dog laws.

Behind a foliage-covered fence line in a tiny Milwaukie home, Lolly Harris breeds Chinese Chows.

Harris says the dogs, which are everywhere in the small home, are "like my babies, and I love them. They're like my children."

KATU News visited Harris while posing as potential dog buyers after receiving a complaint from a woman describing neglect and abuse at the home.

Walking up to the home, the strong stench of dog urine can be smelled from the street, even after several days of hard rain.

Inside the Harris home, dog feces and urine soaked carpeting are everywhere. The odor is so strong it burns your nose. Harris is apologetic, saying "we need to clean the house up again. We just haven't gotten to it today."

When it is pointed out that the dogs' water buckets are filled with a stagnant brown liquid, Harris immediately dumps the muck in a sink and refills the buckets.

The dogs then quickly lap up the fresh water.
    
Harris says she's overwhelmed after two dogs gave birth to 15 puppies.
    
At least 19 puppies and 20 adult dogs are crammed into the small house and kennel area..    

Clackamas County dog services manager Diana Hallmark isn't surprised by the condition of Harris's kennel operation. She says her office is flooded with animal neglect reports.

Hallmark says her staff of three officers answers anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 complaints a year across 1,800 square miles of territory.
 
Complaints against Harris date back five years with the most recent filed in April.

In one complaint, an anonymous caller reported "25 to 30 adult dogs and three litters of puppies at the home" and said the dogs were "matted...the home reeked of urine and garbage was piled around the house."

Despite the complaints, dog services re-issued Harris's "non-commercial multiple dog license" in late September of 2006.
    
Diana Hallmark says since Harris has been licensed since 1993, she does not have to abide by current ordinances and does not have to undergo inspections when her license is renewed.

Asked if she thought any mistakes were made by her office in relation to investigating Harris, Hallmark said she did not think so, saying "unless she tells us she's breeding the dogs for a profit, she qualifies for a home kennel license."

Harris has a non-commercial license even though she sells puppies on the Internet for $1,200 per dog.       
    
The Oregon Humane Society received a complaint about the kennel after a visitor to that website dropped by Harris's home to look at puppies in person.

Humane Society investigators did not follow up on because they say they are too busy.                
    
Mark Wells, the Humane Society's lead investigator said "we hate to close the complaint line down, but there's also the reality that we can only work so many hours in one week."

Diana Hallmark says they can't take any action until they inspect the site for themselves.

The dog laws don't have the teeth to shut Harris down, but perhaps local zoning laws do.
    
Milwaukie planning director Katie Mangle says the kennel is in a neighborhood zoned "residential only" and is illegal, which could result in orders to shut the kennel down.

Mangle also says Harris doesn't even have a business license.

KATU News did reveal their identity to Harris, and Harris cooperated by answering questions and allowing the airing of the video shot in her home.

Lolly Harris is not charged with any crimes, and probably won't be because she is providing at least "minimum care" for the dogs.
   
According to Oregon state law, that's enough to avoid criminal charges.