Whidbey woman pleads not guilty to animal cruelty charges

Kristi L. Finch pleaded not guilty at the Island County Superior Court hearing.

About 30 members of a new animal advocacy group crowded into a courtroom Monday afternoon to witness the arraignment of a woman accused in an egregious animal cruelty case.

Kristi L. Finch pleaded not guilty at the Island County Superior Court hearing to five counts of animal cruelty in the first degree and two counts of animal cruelty in the second degree.

A Feb. 13 hearing was set to consider the prosecution’s request to amend the charges.

At the request of the prosecution, Judge Carolyn Cliff ordered Finch not to own, care for or possess any animals for the duration of the legal case. The judge also ordered that Finch must allow law enforcement to inspect her home and buildings for compliance and that the initial inspection has to be done by Feb 3.

The Dec. 24 discovery of two horses that starved to death on Finch’s property, as well as many other emaciated, unhealthy and neglected animals, created an outcry in the Whidbey Island community.

In response, an aptly named group, Animal Advocates of Island County, formed to work toward stricter codes and stronger law enforcement response to animal-related crimes.

Advocates are working with Sheriff Rick Felici, who’s rebuilding the animal control program in the county. Part of the problem is that he’s been unable to find someone to replace the former animal control officer, who retired a year ago, but he reported making progress.

Finch was raising Australian shepherds and ragdoll cats and had dozens of dogs and cats. She told investigators that she couldn’t afford to feed the horses because nobody was buying the dogs or cats, and she admitted that the horses likely starved to death, a deputy’s report states.

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.