Former Long Beach dog rescue operator Bonnie Sheehan got a $500 fine and two years probation for 14 misdemeanor charges related to her January arrest outside Memphis for having more than 100 crated dogs in a U-Haul and SUV.
A friend in the Tennessee courtroom said Bonnie Sheehan pleaded guilty to 14 misdemeanor animal cruelty counts Thursday morning, in exchange for dismissal of all charges against her longtime friend and Hearts for Hounds volunteer Pamela King-McCracken.
"Bonnie plead guilty to cruel transporting of 15 dogs in exchange for Pam's dismissal of charges," said a close friend of both women who drove to Tennessee for today's trial opening.
A critical piece of the plea was that the probation "not be served in Tennessee," where steadfast supports of the well-known dog rescuers believe the media has been sensational about a case for which there was no jail time expected. Sheehan is so well-known in Long Beach, from which she adopted out 17,000 or more dogs, that local media had an easier time reporting her arrest in the context of her overall reputation. (Full disclosure, this Patch writer adopted a dog from Sheehan's shelter).
Sheehan also took responsibility Thursday for the decision to pack up abandoned dogs at Long Beach Kennel/Hearts for Hounds, put them in crates in the back of a SUV it was towing, and to drive them cross-country, said her friend Susan Larsen.
Larsen was one of eight witnesses, 7 of them from California, in court prepared to testify for the defense Thursday, Larsen said. Those included a Long Beach-Orange County veterinarian who has cared for Hearts for Hounds rescue dogs for years and could testify to their overall good health.
Sheehan pleaded guilty to 14 counts of 30 filed by the Fayette County District Attorney's Office. It was not clear immediately but it appeared the remainder against Sheehan were dismissed.
She has said that she and longtime Hearts for Hounds dog rescue volunteer Pamela King-McCracken could not keep up care for the dogs abandoned at the Long Beach shelter--a number that ballooned after the economic downturn. Every week, dogs were abandoned on the shelter porch, ore tied to a tree by the curb, and the number became overwhelming.
The judge dismissed charges against King-McCracken, and Sheehan supporter Larson said that was the result of Sheehan taking responsibility for the notorious crated dog exodus.
Sheehan, in the presence of Long Beach police and a Long Beach animal control services officer called by a neighbor, and volunteers, packed up the vehicles in January to relocate to Virginia, where life was cheaper and dog adoptions still active, her friends have said. She and King-McCracken have separate properties near Roanoke but the dogs would have been housed at Sheehan's acreage.
On January 17, about 8:30 a.m., a state trooper assigned to a regional drug task force pulled over the U-Haul truck for tailgating and swerving into an adjoining lane on the windy highway outside Memphis.
A Roanoke Virginia TV station reported that no animal shelter business licenses had been obtained from local authorities.
To the Press Telegram's Greg Mellen, Sheehan said earlier this year, cautiously stepping around specifics, that she may not have made the best decision in transporting the dogs, but did it with the longterm hope of saving them.
One condition of the plea was that Sheehan cannot have a pet during her two year probation, a change from the prosecution's original plea offer that banned both women from having pets for life.
Her friend in Fayette County said Sheehan was relieved the case was over in Tennessee, where the media reporting was, they felt, one-sided and inflammatory. Their example was Thursday's report in the Commercial Appeal:
"Each of the 30 charges involved a total of 15 animals which had suffered from physical injuries or death." (One dog died after a fight with another, when both were uncrated by local animal rescue volunteers, Sheehan's camp said).
Also cited by Sheehan's supporters as typical of the unattributed statements and tone of what the defendants felt they were up against in media-shaped public opinion:
"A state trooper pulled over the women for traffic violations on Interstate 40 in Fayette County in January. Animal kennels and crates were stacked to the ceiling in the truck from front to back.
One dog was dead. Fourteen others were either dehydrated and were suffering from skin disease and lesions.
During a March hearing, state Trooper Brad Simpson testified, "It was horrible. I mean, we had a dead dog. Dogs bleeding. Dogs with feces and urine all over them. They were packed in these crates way too tight. It stunk."
In his original deposition, a public record, Simpson's statement was justifying his probable cause to search the vehicles, which was the dogs' incessant barking.
Even on Thursday, after Sheehan had pleaded guilty, the prosecutor was still putting words in her mouth, friends said:
"We feel like we are getting to the truth of the matter," Dist. Atty. Gen. Mike Dunavant said in the Commercial Appeal before the sentencing hearing. "She (Sheehan) is absolving Ms. McCracken. She's essentially falling on the sword and saying, 'I abused them. I'm responsible.' "