There was a foreclosure auction last month at a Hampton Inn in Burlington. On hand were pictures of the properties for sale, and documents to give the new owners. What made this auction remarkably unusual was that the pictures were of dogs, the documents their medical records.
The 37 dogs in question were seized from Kristi and Jeff Finch, who run a sheep farm in Mount Vernon, where they also once bred miniaturize Australian shepherds. The Skagit County Sheriff's office, which executed a search warrant on the Finch property in 2009, had information that the couple were mistreating the dogs. A District Court Judge later agreed, finding that dogs kept in a barn were confined to a wet and cold place. Some of them, the judge noted, were dripping with urine when seized.
Kristi Finch has always disputed that characterization, and in an interview with SW, she vehemently does so again. The dogs were confined for longer than usual periods because it was an exceptionally cold winter that year, she says. The animals didn't want to go out very much. What's more, she portrays herself as a victim of a "witch-hunt" against breeders by extremist activists who "violated her rights" and "stole" her beloved animals.
The activists she's referring to belong to a group called Saving Pets One at a Time (SPOT), which, at the request of the sheriff's office, took over the dogs after they had been seized. She's also referring to the group's lawyer, Adam Karp, a prominent animal rights attorney who was featured a couple years ago in a SW cover story.
In 2010, Finch pleaded guilty (while maintaining her innocence in a so-called "Alford plea") to a minor charge that had to had do with confining two of the dogs "in an unsafe manner." The court then dismissed more serious animal cruelty charges.
It was a not very satisfactory result for either side. And it didn't end the legal wrangling. Finch wanted her dogs back, and she had on her side a judge's order that said the initial warrant had been faulty. SPOT didn't want to return them.
So Karp took a new tack. He got a lien on the dogs based on all the money SPOT had spent caring for the dogs, which he said the Finches should pay for. "SPOT paid $17,000 in vet bills, $20,000 in food," Karp says. Plus, the attorney said, the Finches should have to pay $15 a day for the cost of boarding the animals as well as legal costs.
Eventually, he got a court judgment against Finch for $110,000. The Finches, who filed for bankruptcy, never paid it.
Hence the foreclosure auction, which in essence was a way for SPOT to legally claim ownership. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the $25,000 minimum bid set by the organization, nobody showed up. SPOT bought the dogs itself.
Now the organization is looking for permanent homes for many of the dogs--see picture of one dog, Joey, above--and Karp is declaring victory.