Court limits number of dogs for North Whidbey breeder

A North Whidbey man accused of violating dog breeding laws will be limited in the number of adult Great Danes he can keep at his home.

Matthew Hernkind, 43, pleaded guilty to two counts of improper dog breeding in Island County District Court Tuesday morning. Three additional counts were dismissed.

District Court Judge Bill Hawkins said he was reluctant to go along with the sentence recommendation negotiated by the prosecution and defense since the dogs are still being held in “substandard conditions,” but he concluded it was the best the courts could do to protect the dogs.

“My concern is whether you are meeting the needs of each and every dog,” he said.

Hawkins approved the terms of the plea bargain; one of the counts was suspended and another deferred, which means he won’t have to serve a 364-day sentence unless he fails to comply with the conditions of the agreement.

Hernkind, owner of Matt’s Great Dane Ranch, is limited to having 18 adult dogs at his home unless he expands the shelter and the animal control officer decides that he has adequate room for more in the future.

Hernkind’s attorney, E. P. Hackenberg of Mount Vernon, said his client currently has 24 adult dogs and a litter of 15 puppies. Hernkind wasn’t supposed to allow his dogs to breed since he was first charged, but it may have occurred when he was in jail for a day, the attorney said.

Under the settlement, Hernkind has 30 days to come into compliance with the plea bargain and the state laws governing dog breeding, which dictate the living conditions for the animals.

Deputy Prosecutor Jacqueline Lawrence explained that Hernkind has made strides to improve conditions for the dogs, but that he still isn’t in compliance with the law. Island County Animal Control Officer Carol Barnes has been checking on the home regularly.

Lawrence said there’s more access to clean water and food, as well as less feces and food on the ground.

Still, Lawrence said, it was clear that Hernkind didn’t have malicious intent but just lacked education about the legal requirements for keeping dogs for breeding purposes. She said the state isn’t trying to take away his livelihood.

Barnes was in court and expressed frustration. She said a couple of the dogs continue to be underweight.

Also, she said she’s concerned that he brought a “dilapidated trailer” onto the property for dogs to live in.

“For some reason he doesn’t seem to grasp the magnitude of owning 18-plus dogs,” she said.

Hernkind was charged with the gross misdemeanor charges earlier this year after Barnes investigated his home and concluded that the living conditions were below legal requirements and that some dogs appeared to be malnourished.


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