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by PHYLLIS MCLAUGHLIN, Special to The Spencer Magnet
Pope claims animals well cared for, healthy
Laura H. Pope, who operates Matrix Kennels and Kev-Lar Kennels in Mount Eden, says she is an animal lover who works hard to care for the 105 animals on her 111-acre property off of Van Buren Road.
Pope explained her ex-brother-in-law, Kevin Bailey, owns the kennels and she is the kennel manager. In an interview at her property on Friday, Feb. 21, Pope said a news report that aired in mid-February on WDRB Fox 41 in Louisville, describing her kennel as a puppy mill, was false. She said the report was based on unauthorized photographs taken by someone she had had a falling-out with last year who used to work with her. The news report, as well as photos used in the report and posted on Facebook by Anne Noni-Muss (or Anonymous), went viral on Facebook, touching off a firestorm of angry comments from people around the country.
“What really upsets me is that even the news has told the lies,” Pope said. “The news reporter [from WDRB Fox 41 in Louisville) has never been here. They took photos from [others]. They have created a mob mentality. None of those people [on Facebook] have been out here. They don’t know.”
Pope said she retired from breeding her own dogs, and said most of the dogs on the property belong to friends she has who breed show dogs. She denied a request to photograph any of the dogs, citing confidentiality concerns.
She said only 10-15 litters are bred at the kennel each year. Each time a litter is born, the owners of the parents take the puppies they think they can show; Pope said she sells or adopts out the rest, and said she pays taxes for the puppies she sells. She said none of the puppies leave with their buyers until they reach 8 weeks old and have had two of the required three rounds of vaccinations and boosters.
Pope said all of the puppies are wormed and all the dogs on her property have tested negative for heart worm.
She has a permit from the state veterinarian that allows her to administer rabies shots to the dogs on the property.
The validity of the permit was verified by the state. A spokesman said the permit does not allow Pope to give rabies shots to anyone else’s dogs and explained that the owners of any dogs sold or adopted out from Pope’s kennel must be vaccinated by a licensed veterinarian so the owner can obtain a rabies tag for the animal.
She said she’s never sold any puppies to a pet store, and says all the American Kennel Club-registered breeding adults have been genetically tested, as is required by AKC of any kennel breeding a high number of litters by registered dogs.
Passed 2013 AKC
Magistrate Jerry Davis, who was present at the interview, provided copies of a Sept. 7, 2013, compliance report by an AKC inspector that showed the kennel and its operations met AKC’s standards. Under the field agent’s signature is the notation: “The AKC does not approve, license or endorse anyone engaged in selling purebred dogs. Any notation of ‘In Compliance’ on this inspection report only denotes that the customer inspected at least met the minimum standards for AKC compliance on the date of inspection.”
While not allowed to see the entire property — Pope said she was concerned about safety because of a barn on a neighbor’s property that had been severely damaged by a wind shear the week before — a visual assessment gave the impression that most of the kennels were visible from the main entrance.
Upon getting out of the truck, visitors’ shoes are sprayed with Clorox to prevent anyone from inadvertently tracking in disease. Along the driveway was evidence of careful landscaping; hanging pots on posts along the fencing showed the wilted, brown remnants of last year’s plantings. Spray bottles of cleaners hung on the chain link.
The kennels — and dogs in them — appeared clean. The few that growled at visitors, Pope said, were dogs that had been victims of abuse.
Water troughs were filled; electricity was available to heating units to keep the water from icing over, as well as for heat lamps and heating pads in the igloo-shaped dog houses in the pens where young puppies are kept.
Adults are kept in 10-foot-by-20-foot kennels, housing one or two dogs each; puppies are kept in 20-foot-by-30-foot or 20-foot-by-36-foot kennels, she said. Each of those had at least four puppies inside.
Along the bottom of some kennels was electric-fence wiring. Pope said that is a low-voltage system to keep the dogs from destroying the chain-link fencing and possibly escaping the kennels, as well as to keep some dogs at a distance from each other. She said males can get aggressive with each other, particularly when females are in heat.
From a distance, the dogs — even the dozen or so German shepherds and Belgian malinois kept on long chains along the perimeter of the kennel area — appeared healthy. Most of the chained dogs had either igloos for shelter or houses built from open-slat wooden pallets with either pickup-truck caps or other materials used as roofs. Whether or not any of the dogs were underweight was difficult to ascertain, given the distance from the animals and the fact they were in full winter coats at the time.
She said she is the only person who can approach the dogs that are chained, which she describes as retired police dogs that might attack others. She said she doesn’t have them euthanized, even though they might be dangerous. “Why should they have to die? They will stay here until they die of old age. I can control them.”
Denise Witt, who befriended Pope two years ago when she and her husband adopted two Siberian huskies from the kennel, was at the property on Feb. 21 to lend Pope moral support during the interview with the Magnet. Witt, who owns Big Idea Media Group, a Louisville-based website design firm, designed the Matrix/Kev-Lar kennel website.
Witt said anytime she has visited the property, it has always been clean and the dogs well-cared for.
“She’s the hardest-working person I’ve ever met,” Witt said. “She gets no vacations, no days off, and spends every penny on food for the dogs. She’s not living in luxury.”
Pope nodded, adding that she works with the dogs 10-12 hours a day and that she buys about $500 worth of Diamond-brand dog food every week.
Since the news report, Witt said the story has “gone crazy on social media. They have ruined Laura’s life. She can’t trust anybody. ... They are even saying she’s paying off people.”
Because of the attention, she said people she doesn’t know have tried to enter her property — which is protected with security cameras — without her permission. “I’ve had to put gates up. I’ve had to chase people off my property.”
Though she does get help caring for the dogs from Bailey, friends and some of the other dog owners, she said she’s never been approached by or offered help from any organizations regarding the dogs she says she has rescued — mostly Shiba Inus.
“Nobody’s ever come to ask to help,” she said, adding that a neighbor and others have “painted me in such a negative light, I get no support from people who could help.”
Witt said the recent accusations are being made to discredit Pope. “They dirtied her name 10 years ago,” alluding to a 2004 incident in when Pope was arrested and charged with 95 counts of second-degree animal cruelty. “So, any time someone wants to [hurt her], they bring it up.”
Pope said she was innocent in 2004. At that time, all her animals were removed from the property and she spent 13 days in jail. In the end, she entered an Alford plea to one count of abuse, meaning she did not claim innocence or guilt in the matter. The other 94 counts were merged into that count. She was sentenced to 30 days in jail with conditional discharge for two years, and fined $200 plus $148 in court costs.
Even before the legal process ended, a judge ordered local officials to return the dogs to Pope because housing the dogs at KHS was placing a financial burden on the county, which had to pay more than $100,000 by the time the dogs were returned.
“I pleaded no contest to one count because my lawyer told me to do it. I argued with him for five hours. I didn’t do anything wrong,” Pope said. “I don’t understand what I’ve done. I love animals. If not for me, these [retired police] dogs would be put down.”
Breeders feel misled by puppy purchases
Barbara Andersen believes that Laura Pope’s Mount Eden dog kennel operation is, indeed, a puppy mill, and has been vocal about this belief on Facebook.
The Phoenix, Ariz., woman owns Grand Canyon K9s and breeds German shepherds imported from breeders in Czechoslovakia, especially for use as police dogs.
In a recent telephone interview, Andersen said she takes reservations from people interested in dogs with particular characteristics and breeds her dogs accordingly. “All my litters are booked in advance.”
She doesn’t place her shepherds as pets. “They are working dogs,” she said.
Though she said she rarely ships puppies to buyers without meeting them first, she admits that she did agree to sell one of her male puppies to James Radcliff to an address on Sherry Lynn Court in Louisville last August. “I checked his references”
Radcliff told her he wanted to train the dog as a police dog because he plans to apply to the Louisville Metro Police Department as a K9 officer.
But Andersen no longer buys his story. Rather, she believes her dog, Quassy Von der Canyon, who can be identified by a tattoo inside his right ear, is at Pope’s kennel and is not training with Radcliff — or anyone.
Andersen, who has never been to Pope’s property, said when she saw the photos on Facebook that allegedly show dogs living in poor conditions there, she had become concerned about the health and condition of Quassy. She had learned of a connection between Radcliff and Pope, and demanded photos of the dog to be sure he was OK.
The photos she received, she said, indicated to her that he was underweight and appeared to show a leg injury and a bad eye.
“He looked so bad, I made them take him to the vet,” she said.
Andersen said she has been informed by others who have been to Pope’s kennels, German shepherds are put on chains when they are a year old, and she fears the worst.
“They just bought him to have puppies. These dogs are not made to be chained. They are made to work,” she said, observing that Arizona animal laws apparently are stricter than in Kentucky. “If anyone in the state of Arizona [kept dogs in this manner], they would be in shackles. It would be a criminal offense. I guess that’s why I’m shocked. My dogs live in the house. We don’t keep them outside. [Breeding] is a hobby for me. We love our dogs.”
She said if Belgian malinois dogs on the property also are being kept on chains, the situation is even worse for them. “It’s harder on the malnois than the shepherds. ... It’s not humane, the way they treat them.”
Andersen said she has asked to buy her dog back, offering as much as $3,000. “They refuse to sell the dog back to me.”
She said that if she does, eventually, get Quassy back, she plans to give him to Dogs for Warriors, an Ohio group that trains service dogs for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Radcliff, who contacted the Magnet by phone, said the dog he bought from Andersen doesn’t have enough drive, and said the implications the Arizona breeder are making are “horrifying. ... “It’s so childish, the way she’s acting, trying to say the dog was hurt. He weighs 70 pounds.”
Radcliff said when he took the dog to the vet, it weighed 85 pounds. The vet told him to reduce the dog’s weight because it had panosteitis.
According to the “care and tips” portion of the contract he and Andersen signed for Quassy, panosteitis, or “pano,” is also known as growing pains, a common affliction of German shepherd puppies that they usually outgrow by the age of two with no long-term effects.
Radcliff, who admitted that he has never actually applied to the LMPD K9 program, said he did not buy the dog for Pope, who, he said, he didn’t know until last summer when he bought Quassy. “She’s taught me a lot about dogs.”
He said the dogs are worked every day and “are as happy as can be. ... [Pope] doesn’t do this by herself. A lot of people come to help.”
While Radcliff said he had obtained other German shepherds in the past from the Kentucky Humane Society, he said Quassy is the first — and only — dog he’s ever purchased from breeders.
According to other breeders, that isn’t entirely true.
Marlene Wiggins of Sawyerville, Ala., said she was contacted six months ago by Radcliff and a woman named Heather Ferrell. “I tried to get information on them,” she said, adding that she discovered their connection to Laura Pope’s operation through Facebook.
Wiggins, who breeds German shepherds and Belgian malnois exclusively for law enforcement, said she has no idea how Radcliff and Ferrell even got her information. “I don’t advertise. ... I have no website, nothing online. I don’t sell to the general public.”
She said Radcliff offered her “any amount of money” for one of her dogs, but when she demanded his address and told him she wouldn’t sell to him until he visited her kennel, Radcliff hung up on her.
Beth Rood, who breeds Belgian malnois dogs at her kennel in Jacksonville, Fla., said Radcliff arranged the purchase of her 2-year-old female, RoodHaus’ Branwen, who was shipped in October to the same address that the shepherd from Andersen’s Arizona kennel was shipped to.
Branwen was purchased for $1,000 by Tina Henson, according to a copy of the purchase contract. Dated Oct. 11, the document shows Rood’s and Henson’s signatures, and shows that Henson gave Radcliff’s email address for contact information.
The contract indicates Branwen is co-owned by Rood and Henson, with the stipulation that full ownership will go to Henson upon Rood’s receipt of her pick of Branwen’s first litter of puppies.
After the dog arrived, she said Radcliff and Henson claimed the dog had mange. Radcliff also claimed, during his interview with the Magnet, that Branwen had bites and sores on her legs, and that she “was terrified of everybody.”
Pope said the dog showed signs of abuse and had bite wounds to its face.
Regarding the mange issue, Rood said, “there’s no way. I had her on a monthly preventive.”
She said if there were bites or sores, they likely were the result of the stress of being transported from Florida to Kentucky, which would have made the dog nervous and scared. “There was nothing wrong with her when she left here,” Rood said.
Rood said Henson offered to pay Rood $300 for full ownership of Branwen, but Rood said, by contract, Henson would have to pay $850. Rood said Henson then offered her $500, which she accepted.
“I never heard back from them,” Rood said, adding that Henson also has not filed the proper paperwork with AKC after the sale. “I consider myself the sole owner, because they never filed the paperwork. They are in breach of contract.”
Rood, who is acquainted with Andersen via Facebook, also became concerned when the photos of Pope’s kennels were posted online. Through Anderson, she learned that Radcliff and Henson are connected to Pope, and fears that this is where Branwen is being kept.
“I know my dog is at Laura Pope’s,” she said, adding that she knows other breeders who believe they’ve sold dogs to associates of Pope and that their dogs are being kept at Matrix kennel and are being bred for profit.
Both women have been trying to get their dogs back.
Henson, who called the Magnet last week to vouch for Pope, was contacted for comment on the situation with Branwen. As of press time Tuesday, she had not returned the call.
But last week, Henson said she’s known Pope for four years and has bought five huskies and a German shepherd from Pope.
“They’re my other children,” she said.
She said the first time she went to Pope’s property, “I fell in love with her place. It’s nice. The dogs and puppies are all taken care of. Every one of them looked great to me. From then on, we’ve been friends. More than friends; like family. We’re there for each other.
“I don’t understand how people can be so judgmental, if you’ve not been on the property,” Henson added. “You need to make your own judgment and not rely on just what you hear.”
Others vouching for Pope include Cheryl Denning, Nancy Metcalf and Metcalf’s husband, Alan Ferguson, all of Louisville.
Metcalf said she’s gotten two huskies from Pope’s kennels and boards them there when she and her family goes on vacation. She said her sister also keeps two husky dogs there for breeding.
“I’ve known her for four years,” Metcalf said of Pope. “She’s always cleaning. She’s very honest, and she cares about the dogs. ... Her dogs are always in really good shape and healthy. The pups are too, whenever we go there.”