An animal cruelty case under investigation by the Waxahachie Police Department reached a resolution on its civil aspect Tuesday.
A criminal case against Michelle Lehman, 39, remains pending. Lehman was arrested July 29 and faces a class A misdemeanor charge of cruelty to a nonlivestock animal. She is free on a $1,500 bond.
Lehman testified in Justice of the Peace Court Pct. 2 that she had been operating a “rescue” on property in the 1200 block of Ovilla Road for about a month when officers arrived there in response to a complaint she was beating a dog.
Waxahachie animal control officer Warren Howell said it was a motorist who called police after driving by and seeing Lehman strike one of the animals with a stick or bat. “The dog had ‘flown’ quite a distance,” Howell said of the initial complaint.
Repeatedly referring to her operation as a “rescue,” Lehman said the rules and regulations governing an animal shelter did not apply in her case. She said the officers entered the property without her permission and “don’t know what I have or haven’t done” relating to the animals’ care.
There was no pet food on the property when officers arrived because she had fed the last of it the night before, Lehman said, indicating she didn’t store it in bulk due to mice and ants.
The officers saw pizza crusts in the dog and cat pens because “one night a week we have pizza night,” she said, saying she has a friend who works for a pizza place that routinely gives her pizzas and leftovers to feed her animals.
Lehman said she was in the process of applying for nonprofit status and had records to indicate she had provided medical care when needed. Of the 45 dogs and 34 cats seized by the city, some were owner surrenders while others she said she caught after seeing them “running the road.”
Lehman said she didn’t live on the property but resided at places in Dallas and Red Oak, although she testified she couldn’t remember the address. She said she had two volunteers at her operation, one of whom she testified she didn’t know his last name.
“I do take care of these animals,” she said.
Describing the condition of the property and animals, Howell said he didn’t believe any of the animals should be returned to Lehman. Among the examples he cited were a cat that passed bloody fecal matter in front of him as he talked with Lehman on July 29 as officers were on site as well as a “colony of fleas” that had infested a spot on the head of a very thin dog to the point the insects had eaten through the upper epidermal layers of the skin.
At the end of the hearing, Judge Jackie Miller Jr. awarded all of the animals to the city, of which 38 were ordered humanely euthanized on the recommendation of the animal control department due to their very serious health conditions created by flea, parasite and or heartworm infestations as well as other disease issues left unaddressed by Lehman.
“I don’t agree with the way you have taken care of the animals,” Miller told Lehman. “Caring for them and being able to take care of them are two different things.
“I hate for any animal to be put down,” he said, “but that is far better than letting them continue to suffer like this.”
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