More details have become available in the Cole Camp animal abuse case as well as an update on the surviving animals.
According to a Benton County Sheriff’s Office press release, the office received a tip about a possible case of animal abuse/neglect within Benton County from the Missouri Humane Society Animal Cruelty Task Force. The Task Force had been contacted by the Cameron County Sheriff’s Office in Texas where Steven C. Woodington, 55, of Texas, was arrested for animal cruelty.
Steven was housing 278 dogs in unfit and severely inhumane conditions. Authorities estimate more than half of those animals would not survive and euthanasia would be required due to health conditions. The survivors were rescued and treated by a veterinarian.
Steven and his wife, Tiffany L. Woodington, 49, of Cole Camp, had been operating a not-for-profit animal rescue called All Accounted For in Benton County. According to court documents, it was believed that Tiffany was hoarding a large number of dogs in various locations in Benton County and she may have moved a number of dogs from Texas to Missouri.
In Benton County Sept. 12, law enforcement and animal task force officers arrived at the address of concern and made contact with Tiffany. Upon arrival, deputies could smell a very strong odor coming from inside the residence.
“We were contacted by the Humane Society and then we went out to the property and that’s when they saw. He (Sgt. Breshears) talks about in his report, that smell of decay when he pulled up there,” Benton County Sheriff Eric Knox told the Democrat this week.
“Same for me when I pulled up in the yard. You probably can’t imagine what upwards of 120 dogs decaying in cages, two and three stacked on each other would look like and smell like.”
Tiffany was cooperative and led authorities to an old school bus, barn, and house which also contained alive animals, but were in “unimaginable condition,” according to the press release. Tiffany advised most of the dogs had been transported to the residence from Texas.
The investigation revealed approximately 120 dogs and one cat had perished. The animals were in various stages of decay, some of which were just bones and were located in various places on the property. Several of the alive dogs were living in small cages with inches of feces.
“It makes me want to cry. As an adult man, big bad sheriff, it makes me want to tear up that dogs were living in that condition. This is hard for me…I’m a dog lover, I’m an animal lover,” Knox said.
Tiffany said all the dogs had died within a three-day span due to a case of distemper. When asked why she had not reached out for help Tiffany said the incident had just happened so fast.
The Humane Society of Missouri (HSMO) Task Force removed the living animals for treatment and returned the following day to collect the remains and do further forensic examination. According to HSMO Vice President of Communications Jeane Jae, the society received 36 dogs and two cats Sept. 13 and an additional dog on Sept. 17. According to an article posted by the society, many were in poor health and may take many weeks to fully recover before they are available for adoption.
“Many were found severely underweight, fur matted with urine and feces, many of them testing positive for internal and external parasites as well as varying degrees of eye and ear infections,” the article states.
One cat and one dog were “subsequently were euthanized due to their very poor medical condition,” according to Jae.
Tiffany has been charged with 10 counts of felony animal abuse and two counts of misdemeanor animal abuse with a $100,000 bond. She posted bail Sept. 23 and Knox said part of the judge’s conditions were she was not to be around any animals. Tiffany appeared in court Oct. 1 and entered a plea of not guilty. There is a motion hearing scheduled for 8 a.m. Oct. 8.
Knox said he would have liked to see more charges brought against Tiffany.
“The prosecutor charged her with 10 felonies and two class A misdemeanors,” Knox said. “I’d like to have seen 120 or however many dead dogs that they actually came up with. Like I said, they were molded together.”
According to Knox, Tiffany cannot be charged with the crimes her husband has been charged with in Texas because the law states that a person has to have custody of or ownership of the animals.
“So obviously she's not in custody of the dogs in Texas because she’s not in Texas, and she doesn't own them because they are not her property, they belong to somebody else. It doesn't meet the statute…” he explained. “With Missouri she was in custody of all these dogs so it meets the criteria, in Texas it doesn’t...Texas will take care of theirs and Missouri will respectively take care of ours.”
Knox has concerns with the way Missouri legislation defines and deals with animal abuse, the first being the definition of “adequate care for animals.” He said the law is too vague as everyone has a different idea of “adequate care.”
Another challenge with animal abuse cases is the prosecutor must prove it was done intentionally or purposely.
“The problem for the prosecution is they have to prove that she willfully and intentionally killed those animals. That’s going to be hard to prove…” Knox said.
Knox said he believes the issue is “double-edged” since animals are seen as property under Missouri law.
“This is double edged because animals are property, your property, my property. So who is the government to tell me what I can and can’t do with my property…” he said. “Just how far do you want government to go to tell you what you can and can’t do?”
The Benton County Sheriff’s Department is staying in contact with law enforcement in Texas to see what is discovered there and if it relates to the Missouri case.
Knox said he hopes some good can come out of this situation.
“If anything we get out of this conversation, or your readers get, is that I hope somewhere within our legislative branch that somebody is man or woman enough to accept the responsibility to champion some laws for our animals. Some better ones,” he said.