Video showed HSUS agreeing to let 5 pets stay
The state Supreme Court denied an appeal that was made by Sheriff Alex Hodge and the Humane Society of the United States to overrule the decision of Jones County Circuit Judge Dal Williamson in the seizure of five household pets from the home of Col. David and Mary Ellen Senne on Lyon Ranch Road in July 2018.
Hodge and HSUS filed the interlocutory appeal — which is an appeal of a ruling by a trial court before the trial has concluded — in response to Williamson’s denial of several motions filed by their attorneys in July. The judge questioned the constitutionality of the raid and wrote that there were some “troubling aspects as to the process by which the Sennes lost their five household dogs."
A panel of Supreme Court Justices — James Kitchens, David Ishee and Kenneth Griffis — reviewed the appeals and wrote in orders to Hodge and HSUS: “After due consideration, the panel finds that the petition should be denied.”
In the argument to support the motion for reconsideration, Hodge claims that it was never stated that the five pets would not be “removed” from the property, only that they would not be “surrendered” or “relinquished.” He argued that their five dogs “were never surrendered” but were instead “seized.”
But Williamson quoted from a video, in which an HSUS spokeswoman said, “we will not touch” the household pets and the surrender form, which read: “All animals removed from the property listed above with the exception of 1) Miss Poo 2) Loco 3) Sister Angel 4) Precious 5) Abby.”
That “specific language … would cause most people to believe that the named dogs would not be taken from the Plaintiffs’ property the day of the seizure,” Williamson wrote.
Williamson went on to write, “This Court finds that this procedure and requirement is a violation of the ‘absolute’ right to procedural due process of the Sennes and a violation of their 14th Amendment right to procedural due process." He then showed case law from both the state and U.S. supreme courts ruling that, “An unconstitutional law is void … An offense created by it is not a crime. A conviction under it is not merely erroneous, but is illegal and void.”
The case of the Sennes’ five missing pets first came to Jones County Circuit Court more than a year ago, when they filed a Complaint of Replevin on Aug. 9, 2018. A replevin action is a procedure by which seized items can be returned to the owner pending the outcome of a legal action. The Sennes were charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty after the raid on their property led to the seizure of 55 dogs, 34 cats and 17 deceased animals that were being stored in freezers in preparation for burial in a cemetery beside a chapel the Sennes had constructed on the property.
Hodge claimed that their five pets “were forfeited by operation of law to the Justice Court of Jones County” and an order from that court authorized the JCSD to transfer ownership to “an organization to house and care for the animals.” HSUS makes the same claim, adding that the sheriff”s department transferred ownership to HSUS, which, in turn, transferred ownership to another unspecified animal rescue organization in the Washington, D.C. area on July 21, 2018 “to provide veterinary care and to find the animals permanent homes.”
An affidavit by Sara Varsa, vice president of HSUS, signed on Oct. 30, 2018, makes that claim, but it is devoid of detail.
“It seems somewhat curious that Ms. Varsa fails to state what ‘animal rescue organization’ the five dogs were transferred to,” Williamson wrote. “It would seem reasonable that the ‘Vice President, Animal Rescue Team’ of The HSUS with personal knowledge of the facts of this case should know and have records of which organization the five dogs were transferred to, the day the transfer occurred, and the terms and conditions of the transfer.
“The fact that this more specific information is conspicuously lacking from Ms. Varsa’s affidavit concerns the Court that her affidavit is merely self-serving and conclusory and therefore unpersuasive.”
Williamson concluded, “If plaintiff (the Sennes) prevails, the judgment in a replevin action is either for possession of the property or the value of the property,” Williamson wrote … (If) the property ‘cannot be found,’ other damages may be awarded because of “the wrongful taking.”