UPDATED Officials: Spindletop Owner Tortured, Drowned Injured Dog
See the end of this post for more from the chief animal control investigator's affidavit.
Former Spindletop dog refuge owner Leah Purcell poured water down a pit bull's nose while its mouth was held shut, "intentionally, knowingly or recklessly" torturing it to death in December 2011, according to a complaint filed by Montgomery County prosecutors.
The dog's alleged week-long primitive, homespun medical care is detailed in an affidavit recently made available online, and which is part of the long-awaited felony animal cruelty charge prosecutors filed in July. Purcell has also been charged with four misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty.
The dog, a "blueish pit bull named Tessa" had hurt herself trying to escape a crate, according to a statement an ex-Spindletop employee gave Montgomery County Animal Control Chief Tim Holifield.
The dog had "multiple puncture wounds on her face and front shoulder regions," the ex-employee told Holifield, according to the former employee's affidavit. The former employee told Purcell the dog needed to see a vet, but Purcell "insisted they work on her themselves," the affidavit alleges.
The ex-employee "states that [Purcell] instructed him to bring Tessa out by the pump house where she had penicillin, syringes, antibiotics, gloves, and hydrogen peroxide," according to the affidavit. "Purcell then told [the employee] to get the hose and start 'hydroing' the wounds. After that, [the employee] was told by Purcell to squeeze all the puss out of the wounds and to squirt the hydrogen peroxide into each wound. Purcell then administered penicillin to Tessa."
Although Tessa appeared to be improving over the next week, on the night of Dec. 28, 2011, the ex-employee "noticed that Tessa was in critical condition and barely alive and that at that time she was laying in her own feces, urine and blood from her open wounds. [The employee] was then instructed to bring Tessa to her house, which he did, and sat Tessa down on the kitchen floor. At that time, Purcell proceeded to pump Tessa full of penicillin and said, 'I have to check if she is responsive.' At that time, she held Tessa's mouth closed and poured water down her nose."
The ex-employee stated that, after Tessa died, Purcell ordered him to "put Tessa in a trash bag and place her in the pump house in front of Purcell's house, where Tessa's corpse stayed for two days," according to the affidavit.
We left a message with Purcell's attorney and will update if we hear back.
The animal cruelty charges against Purcell were filed almost two years to the day after county officials and members of the Humane Society of the United States raided her Willis property and seized nearly 300 dogs.
Katie Jarl, director of HSUS' Texas chapter, tells us: "The atrocious conditions at Spindletop still haunt me to this day. Our team spent months on the ground to assist local law enforcement with the rescue, care, and placement of nearly 300 dogs, and with documenting the evidence needed to prosecute this case. We are grateful that the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office has moved forward with the charges, and we hope Purcell receives the maximum punishment allowed by law."
UPDATE: Holifield's affidavit also includes a description of dogs that animal control field officers observed shortly before the July 2012 seizure.
The officers proceeded towards a building on the back side of the property and were granted access. When they approached the building, it was extremely loud with barking noises and, again, there were many dogs located inside of the building. When they arrived at the entrance to this building, they could see many more portable crates than they observed on a previous visit. Some of the crates were made of wire and other[s] were solid travel/transport type kennels. The officers took pictures of each dog and counted kennels. The count was 159 with each portable kennel housing one dog. The kennels are described as being restrictive and not big enough for the dogs to be in for a long period of time - not enough room for turning around or stretching out to lay inside of them or to get out of their own feces and urine.
Ms. Pucell indicated to the officers that each dog gets out of its crate and goes to an outside, 12'X12' kennel for approximately 30 minutes each day. Ms. Purcell also stated that the dogs are taken out and walked 4 times a day.
The kennels were all urine and feces filled and appeared to not have been cleaned for more than a day. The general, physical condition of the dogs were described as fair but the concern was that the dogs were being housed in a cruel manner which will lead to aggression and health issues from being so isolated.
On July 16, 2012, forensic veterinarian Melinda Merck examined photos taken by the officers, and:
stated that the animals lack the reasonable shelter and care as evidence[d] by the urine scalds to the dogs' paws, bald lesions and hair loss, as well as extremely long toe nails and embedded toe nails, feces-covered walls and floor and water bowls. Dr. Merck also indicated that [it] appears that some of the kennels have been wired shut and food just poured into them. Dr. Merck also believed that the dogs were not being allowed out of the kennels daily nor did some of them have enough space to stand up, turn around or lay down.
When officials executed the search warrant on July 17, 2012, HSUS investigators, assisted by veterinarians including Merck noted:
178 dogs were located in a back building which had an inside temperature of 89 [degrees]. There were several animals that were described as being in need of immediate veterinary care, one such animal having a temperature of 102.9. This animal was unable to stand in its kennel due to foot pain as a result of "urine scald." This dog, a Brindle/White female Pit Bull mix, was covered in urine and feces due to lying in her own urine and feces since she was unable to stand due to pain from the "urine scalds" to the dog's feet/ This dog also showed signs of dehydration and pressure sores on her legs and hips.
We really are curious as to how Purcell's attorney, Khalil Saman, will address these allegations.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.