Kate Decker is a 68 year old retired public relations executive living in Burlington Co, NJ. She has two homes on her property – her own (she is a widow) and the one formerly occupied by her parents, who are now deceased. Over the past 30 years, she has dedicated herself to saving dogs, many of them Pitbull types, who would otherwise have been killed in municipal pounds:
Instead, she said, she trained them to be therapy dogs she takes to nursing homes or to work with the mentally impaired, such as autistic children.
Decker recalled taking a therapy animal to a nursing home and watching an Alzheimer’s patient talk to the dog, then to her. On the way out, she said, health-care workers were amazed, saying they had never seen the woman speak.
Ms. Decker keeps a couple dozen dogs and works with them daily, along with two assistants, to make sure each animal receives exercise, training, fresh air and quality time with people and other dogs. The outdoor dog yards are fenced. The dogs are housed throughout the two heated homes as well as a heated garage on the property. Her neighbor reports that the dogs are no trouble whatsoever to the neighborhood and that Ms. Decker is devoted to their care. There are no pet limit laws in the county. A reporter who recently spent three hours visiting the property observed happy, healthy dogs being well cared for and described the home as “stately”.
You are probably thinking this lady is up for some sort of community service award. Hold that thought.
In October 2012, the Burlington Co SPCA reportedly received an anonymous complaint about Ms. Decker. An officer visited her home in response. Ms. Decker says the officer forced her way inside the house. Cheryl Mosca, recently appointed deputy chief and treasurer of the county SPCA, says Ms. Decker invited the officer inside but was “not completely cooperative” in allowing a thorough search:
Decker said the officer looked around and asked to see veterinary records. She retrieved the records from another room, and the officer left after reviewing them, she said.
Several days later, Decker said, she noticed that a gold watch given to her by her parents when she was 16 was gone. She filed a theft complaint, alleging the animal welfare officer was the only one who had entered the house between the last time she saw the watch and when it disappeared.
Moorestown police investigated. No charges have been filed.
In December 2012, Cheryl Mosca led a raid on the property after a search warrant was obtained:
Wayne Becker, Decker’s neighbor across the street in Moorestown, said he recalled the day of the raid. He saw several vehicles outside the house and checked whether Decker needed help.
Becker, retired from the Coast Guard, said one of the officers, who was armed, blocked him and ordered him to leave, which he did.
“This was like a military operation, but it did not have the discipline of the military,” Becker said[.]
Ms. Decker states that during the raid, she was prevented from calling anyone or caring for her dogs for five hours. She says officers threatened to seize and kill her dogs. She was subsequently charged with 66 counts of animal neglect:
Half of the charges are criminal, half are civil. Authorities allege she failed to keep water in all of the crates, and stacked some crates two high without a barrier between the top and bottom crates.
Charges against Decker do not include allegations of abuse or that animals were malnourished, dehydrated, or denied veterinary care.
During the raid, there was a strong animal odor, animal waste in the home, and the house was not clean, Mosca said.
If this seems like petty retaliation and abuse of power to you, you may be on to something:
The county SPCA has a checkered past. An investigation of the enforcement agencies statewide in 2000 found that many, including Burlington’s, did not comply with state and federal regulations.
In Burlington County, the former treasurer was convicted of stealing.
Maybe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in Burlington Co political circles.
Ms. Decker must face a municipal trial next month and if convicted, could be fined up to $66,000. She is refusing to give up any of her dogs because she considers them to be family members.
(Thanks Clarice for the link.)