A delay in an animal cruelty trial means that dogs, cats and chinchillas in protective custody at a Whidbey Island animal shelter will have to wait longer to find homes.
In addition, room-and-board fees for the defendant, North Whidbey resident Kristi Finch, continue to accumulate. The bill is nearing $60,000 because of the number of her critters the animal shelter has to care for since the beginning of the year. The tab will continue to increase as the case drags on, according to Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation, commonly known as WAIF.
“We just want to find homes for these animals,” said Cinnamon Hudgins, executive director of WAIF. “The shelter is meant to be a temporary place.”
Prosecutors amended charges against Finch in Island County Superior Court earlier this year to include two counts of animal cruelty in the first degree, five counts of animal cruelty in the second degree and tampering with a witness.
Prosecutors also notified Finch that they seek aggravating circumstances on two counts alleging that the victims were particularly vulnerable. Such a finding would allow the judge to sentence her beyond the standard range of four to 12 months in jail.
Deputies with the Island County Sheriff’s Office began investigating Finch’s Hastie Lake property Dec. 24 after a witness saw two dead horses. Deputies discovered a large number of animals in various states of neglect, according to court documents. In all, 11 horses, 24 dogs, 31 cats, two pigs, four chinchillas and some rabbits from Finch’s property were seized, surrendered or given away, according to a deputy’s report.
This week, Finch’s public defense attorney withdrew because of a conflict of interest. As a result, the judge agreed to delay the trial from June 13 to Aug. 1. It was the third time the trial was delayed at the request of the defense.
In April, the judge approved the defense’s request to spend up to $1,200 to have the case evaluated and reviewed by veterinary expert Adam Stern, a professor of forensic pathology at the University of Florida.
While the trial delay may have been unavoidable because of the conflict of interest, it is an unfortunate turn of events for the 16 cats, 13 dogs and four chinchillas that remain in protective custody at WAIF. They cannot be adopted to families until the court case is resolved or Finch agrees to surrender them.
In addition, Finch already surrendered 15 cats and 11 dogs. All of the surrendered cats have been adopted while five dogs are still available for adoption.
Hudgins said the animals are well cared for at the shelter, but they would be much better off if they lived with families. The large amount of space taken up by the animals in protective custody affects shelter operations.
“We can’t take in as many dogs and that’s a little bit frustrating,” Hudgins said.
Taking care of the five dozen animals is also expensive. All of the dogs and cats were infected with giardiasis when they were collected from Finch’s property, according to WAIF. Treating them involved both medication and very strict sanitary protocols.
WAIF charges a room-and-boarding fee in such cases of $10 a day per animal. As of May 31, the bill from WAIF is up to nearly $55,000. In addition, Island County is owed about $5,000 in impound fees.
If Finch is found guilty,WAIF may seek to have her pay the fees in the form of court-ordered restitution.
WAIF officials encourage people to donate to the shelters or volunteer. More information can be found at waifanimals.org.