No Escape for AbusersOctober 17th, 2002
One of the 48 cats recently rescued from hoarder Vicki Kittles
finds better care in the Cheyenne Animal Shelter.
ALDF's Anti-Cruelty Division recently helped the long arm of the law stretch a little further. After landing in hot water for their mistreatment of animals, an abusive dog trainer and a notorious hoarder moved to new locations — and soon went back to their old tricks. But ALDF continued tracking these two and their activities, supplying local activists and authorities with comprehensive files on both of them. Soon afterwards, they found themselves facing new charges.
Stephen Barry King first came to the attention of animal advocates in Oregon in the 1990s because of his extreme methods. Most disturbing was his predilection for disciplining dogs through "airplaning" or "helicoptering," which involves jerking his victims off the ground by their choke collars, temporarily hanging and strangling them. King insisted that this was necessary to "correct" dogs and force them to obey.
When Anti-Cruelty Division Director Pamela Frasch witnessed King's behavior firsthand in a local park, she realized that he needed to be stopped. After intervening that day, Frasch began searching for human guardians who felt King had mistreated their dogs. She quickly found more than 30 such people. Frasch and other animal advocates brought their concerns to local prosecutors, who launched an investigation. Though cruelty charges were never brought against King in Oregon, his excessive methods were exposed in the local media, resulting in a wave of negative publicity. King eventually left the state.
But he wasn't through "airplaning" dogs. King went all the way to England, where he quickly went into business as a dog trainer, billing himself as a respected American expert in the field. The Anti-Cruelty Division learned of King's move, and soon ALDF staff attorney Stephan Otto was supplying animal advocates in Britain with extensive material on King's activities. Armed with case files, undercover surveillance video and advice provided by ALDF, England's Ooze Online (a pro-animal website) launched a campaign to expose King.
Eventually, prosecutors in London brought charges. This summer, King was convicted of four counts of animal cruelty: two for "inflicting unnecessary suffering" and two for "cruelly terrifying and cruelly treating animals." The charges stemmed from two separate incidences involving dogs. King was fined £500 (approximately $800) in the first case. In the second case — in which King wrapped a leash around a 2-year-old bull terrier's neck and swung the animal a foot off the ground, causing the dog to bleed and become incontinent — the judge's sentence included a £2000 fine (about $3000), 100 hours of community service and an eight-year ban on custody and control of dogs.
"King has spread terror wherever he's gone," says Otto. "Fortunately, through the perseverance of ALDF and animal advocates in the U.K., his abusive activities have finally been exposed in a court of law. He's been brought to justice at last."
Vicki Kittles has a history of hording animals that extends back over many years and many states. In the early 1980s, she ran into trouble with the law in Florida for allegedly hording dogs and horses in a home littered with feces and the bodies of dead animals. That pattern of abuse was repeated again and again over the years, with Kittles accused of imprisoning animals in squalid, cramped surroundings in Colorado, Washington and Oregon.
Thanks largely to expert witnesses and legal research provided by ALDF, Kittles was eventually convicted in Oregon of 42 misdemeanor counts of animal neglect. The case garnered widespread publicity, and ALDF used that momentum to push for stronger anti-cruelty laws. Soon afterward, the Oregon legislature passed an ALDF-drafted bill that made aggravated animal abuse a felony in the state.
As she had in the past, Kittles simply moved on when things got too hot for her. After serving almost a year in an Oregon jail, she moved to Wyoming, where she apparently began acquiring yet another menagerie of animals she allegedly couldn't care for. The Anti-Cruelty Division stayed in contact with animal advocates in the state, offering background information on Kittles and her ways.
This summer, officials in Cheyenne removed 48 cats and six horses from her property. Although only one charge has been brought so far — a livestock-at-large misdemeanor — prosecutors there are considering further action. In the meantime, ALDF is working with pro-animal politicians and activists in Wyoming to strengthen the state's animal protection laws.
"It's extremely important for us to track individuals convicted of animal crimes, like Kittles and King, since they're so likely to put more animals at risk," says Otto.
"There's a message we want to send to animal abusers: You can run, but you can't hide," adds Frasch. "These latest cases prove that."