Kennewick kennel breeder to return to court

KENNEWICK -- A Kennewick dog breeder is expected back in court next week to find out if her animal cruelty case will proceed to trial as scheduled July 6.

Ella Stewart, 67, is charged in Benton County Superior Court with one count of first-degree animal cruelty, a felony, and nine counts of second-degree animal cruelty, gross misdemeanors.

She was found competent to stand trial, and attorneys are continuing to negotiate a possible resolution to the case.

Stewart, who runs Sun Valley Kennel from her east Kennewick home, is accused of improperly caring for 371 American Eskimo dogs that were seized last year.

She adamantly denies allegations that she did not provide proper care for her pups.

In a competency report filed in Superior Court, Stewart was asked to define animal cruelty and she said it was "knowingly and with intent (to) put these animals in a situation where there was pain and suffering and problems and absolutely I did not."

Sheriffs officials, however, described the conditions the dogs were found in as deplorable and noted dogs were in filthy makeshift cages, including boxes, crates and overturned shopping carts. Many animals were found with open sores and other health problems.

Stewart was examined at Eastern State Hospital and was found to have the capacity to understand the proceedings against her and to tell right from wrong, according to a health report filed in court.

She was diagnosed with an adjustment disorder with anxiety, and told the evaluating doctor that she has experienced a lot of stress because of the current legal case. She also had some paranoid thoughts following her arrest.

"I'd put clothes in my car so I wouldn't have to go home if I didn't have to," Stewart said, according to the report. "I'd circle around the block and make sure there were no officers around. ... I keep telling myself that's foolish, but I did feel very paranoid for a while."

Stewart explained that her mother-in-law started Sun Valley Kennel in the 1950s and she "married into it in 1967" but did not take over management until the '70s.

She has had full responsibility of the kennel since her husband died in 1994 and has had people volunteer to help her because she couldn't afford full-time help, the report said.

Stewart said she had a family move onto the property in September 2008 and they were supposed to help with the kennel.

Sheriff's deputies were responding to an unrelated call at the family's home when they discovered the dogs.

Stewart denied the dogs were in apple crates, but said they were 4-by-4-foot bins that were used to separate two females that were in heat and one that had an autoimmune problem, the report said.

A pup with a hurt paw was being kept in a shopping cart to keep it off the sand while the paw healed, she said.

Stewart also said food and water was given to the dogs in the morning and night and explained "when these officers came, that is when I would have been cleaning them out and refreshing their food and water."

As to her court case, Stewart said she expected her attorney would get the case thrown out of court, but then told the psychologist that it was "probably unlikely, but that doesn't mean I won't hope for it."

-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com