Couple takes plea in animal cruelty case

Cheyenne is one of the huskies removed from the Wiggins property on March 11 and taken in by the Homeward Bound Animal Shelter.

Animal activists upset with fines levied 

MANISTEE — A Copemish couple charged with felony abandoning/cruelty to 10 or more animals in March took a plea bargain on Tuesday for a lesser charge.

Maxwell Timothy Wiggins, 60, and Wanda Sue Wiggins, 46, each pleaded guilty to one count of animal cruelty and each were ordered to pay $400 in court fines/costs. Originally, the two faced up to four years in prison and/or a fine of $5,000 each.

According to Maxwell, the charge that he and Wanda pleaded to represented one dog that died from worm medication.

“It was a fair ruling,” he said. “It was an accident. We were responsible for it. It was nothing we did on purpose, but sometimes things happen. When you have this many dogs, it can happen.”

On March 11, Manistee County Sheriff’s Office animal control officer J.R. Nelson found the couple had have more than 50 canines on their property. According to a Manistee County Sheriff’s Office press release, many of the dogs were underweight and covered in feces. However, Maxwell contends that the dogs were properly cared for.

“Evidently, the judge seemed to think that way too,” he said. “They were not in that bad of shape. We did have dogs that had worms. Several of them had been to the vet.”

According to Maxwell, Nelson came to his property the morning after a large rain when the dogs were in a temporary kennel while the main kennel drained out, making it seem like the dogs lived in worse conditions than they actually did.

“They tried to say we weren’t feeding the animals,” he said. “My animals eat better than I do.”

However, local animal advocates criticized the court’s Tuesday ruling.

“It is disturbing to see that the fair treatment of animals means so little to some people in our community,” said Brit Goda, shelter manager for Homeward Bound Animal Shelter. “The Manistee County Humane Society spent countless hours with animal control rehabilitating and re-homing these huskies. Even worse, it is disappointing to see this treatment may occur in the future if animal abuse laws aren’t enforced.”

Of the 54 dogs that were taken by animal control, 45 were placed at various shelters throughout the Midwest, she said. About half have been adopted, but “half are not able to be in homes based on their current medical condition,” Goda said.

Homeward Bound took nine dogs and found homes for four; it still has five. Goda said the cost of housing and feeding the dogs has totaled $2,000, while treatment of one dog with heart worms has reached another $900. Other dogs with heart worms were among those transferred to other shelters, she said.

The dogs remaining at Homeward Bound are continuing to recover from their experiences and show daily signs of improvement, Goda said, but she cautioned that they still are not near “pet” status.

The Wiggins have owned Wiggi’s Mountain-Side Huskies, a regional dog-sledding business that took guests on rides through the woods, for several years. Through the entire process, Maxwell says he has lost about $20,000 worth of dogs.

“Depending on how bad some of our customers look at it, we’re still planning on going back (into business),” he said. “We’re going to stay a lot smaller and downsize some.”

He said it is not clear whether some of his clients such as the Grand Traverse Resort or Caberfae Peaks will resign next year.

The Manistee County Prosecutor’s Office could not be reached in time for the deadline for this story.

Guest writer David Navadeh contributed to this report.

avatar

Posted by Eric Sagonowsky

Leave a Reply