Court orders forfeiture of animals seized in cruelty investigation

Critters removed from a North Whidbey property last year will soon be up for adoption.

Critters removed from a North Whidbey property in an animal cruelty investigation last year will soon be up for adoption after a judge ordered the forfeiture of the animals on Aug. 9.

Prosecutors filed a motion of forfeiture in the animal cruelty case against Kristi L. Finch, a North Whidbey resident who, deputies with Island County Sheriff’s Office discovered, had two dead horses on her Hastie Lake Road property on Christmas Eve. The deputies seized around a dozen living horses, as well as several pigs and rabbits, from the property that day.

A number of cats, dogs and chinchillas were discovered on the property days later during the execution of a search warrant and subsequently taken as well.

Finch has been charged in Island County Superior Court earlier this year with two counts of animal cruelty in the first degree, five counts of animal cruelty in the second degree and tampering with a witness.

In a hearing in Island County Superior Court Wednesday, Judge Christon Skinner determined that it would not be appropriate for the animals to be returned to Finch and ordered the forfeiture of the animals taken from her property between Dec. 24 and Dec. 26, 2022, as requested by the state.

“A party who takes on the responsibility of more than one or two animals has a duty to take care of those animals,” Skinner said.

An examination by a veterinarian of the animals seized from Finch’s property showed that most of the animals were in varying states of emaciation and starvation, several cats were infested with fleas or mites and a number of dogs had feces matted in their fur.

Deputy Prosecutor Michael Safstrom argued that removing the animals from these conditions and from Finch’s care was the only way to protect them from further harm. He played body camera footage during the hearing that showed Finch admitting that the animals in her care were not receiving adequate food.

“The gist of the state’s argument in the brief that the court has already reviewed is that what law enforcement did in this case was necessary,” he said. “There was no other way.”

Finch testified that the reason she could not consistently provide adequate amounts of food for her animals was a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, including cold and snowy weather, financial hardship from not selling enough dogs and cats and an injury she had sustained that summer. She claimed that this was a one-time incident.

In 2009, Finch was charged in Skagit County with animal cruelty and transporting or confining animals in an unsafe manner.

Cinnamon Hudgins, executive director of Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation, which assisted in the seizure of Finch’s dogs, cats and chinchillas, said the shelter can now move forward with finding safe and loving homes for these animals through adoption.

“This decision allows us to fulfill WAIF’s mission and vision fully,” she said.

As of Aug. 9, 13 dogs, 16 cats and four chinchillas were forfeited to WAIF. Dogs and cats will not be available for adoption until they are spayed or neutered. Chinchillas may go to a rescue, Hudgins said.

Hudgins said this case has stretched WAIF financially and hampered the shelter’s capacity to take in more animals in need because of space limitations while Finch’s animals remained in protective custody. The director said Finch owes the shelter nearly $78,000 in room and board fees for her animals.