Two weeks after their defamation lawsuit against critics was dismissed by a Harris County District Judge, the owners of the Rowdy Girl animal sanctuary in Angleton are asking a judge to allow them take their case to trial.
Anuj Shah, attorney for Renee King-Sonnen and her husband, Tommy Sonnen, filed a motion for rehearing Thursday, arguing that new case law suggests the complaint should not have been dismissed under the state's so-called anti-SLAPP law.
The Sonnens had sued a host of critics who called the sanctuary a "scam" and a "con," on a Facebook page questioning how the couple spent donations, as well as the welfare of the animals. A judge ruled that the complaint was without merit and leveled $159,000 in sanctions and attorneys' fees against the Sonnens.
But the new motion claims that "a case decided two days after the hearing in this matter has found that a false statement alleging a 'scam' about animals would be defamatory if proven."
Attached to the motion are the sanctuary's tax returns from 2015 and 2016, as well as affidavits from the Sonnens declaring that the finances are accurate.
One thing jumps out: The animals on the sanctuary are treated as "assets" that, like office equipment and furniture, can be depreciated. (The animals are listed in Rowdy Girl's federal tax forms as "livestock").
According to the IRS, certain livestock — considered tangible personal property — can be depreciated:
"Depreciation for livestock begins when the livestock reaches the age of maturity. If you bought immature livestock for drafting purposes, depreciation begins when they can be worked. If you bought immature livestock for breeding or dairy purposes, depreciation begins when they can be bred. Your basis for depreciation is your initial cost for the immature livestock."
Sanctuary board member Drew Alexis told the Press in an email last week that he checked with the organization's outside accountant, Brownie Kimes, who
"indicated to me that the cows are treated by the Internal Revenue Code in this case as an asset with a life of more than one year and, therefore, subject to depreciation pursuant to generally accepted accounting principles."
We wanted to follow up with Kimes, but he has not responded to multiple requests for comment. We asked other animal sanctuaries if they followed this practice, and they all said they did not, except for Best Friends Animal Society, which declined to answer at all.
A representative of the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, an accrediting organization, told us, "Including animals as depreciating assets is not a practice commonly used by sanctuaries applying for GFAS accreditation."
Rowdy Girl also seems to follow other unusual practices, such as giving "vegan" energy drinks to at least one animal. King-Sonnen is a "consultant" for a multi-level marketing company called Zurvita, which offers a variety of energy drinks under the name "Zeal." In a photo on a Facebook page King-Sonnen created to hawk Zeal (as well as conspiracy theories about Big Pharma, fluoride and other tropes), she is seen giving grape-flavored Zeal to an elderly, arthritic pig named Herman.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
The photo is captioned, "Herman is drinking grape zeal [sic] with his breakfast because he has arthritis! He loves it! www.wellforreal.zealforlife.com."
When we asked a Zurvita customer care representative if giving Zeal to animals was OK, she told us, "No it is not....We really don't recommend giving [our] product to animals."
It's unclear if the Zeal helped Herman, who died in either late March or early April 2016, shortly after a glowing Houston Chronicle article on the sanctuary. (However, maybe singing a jaunty tune while a porcine fixed asset wheezes laboriously helps ease suffering. See for yourself.)
We will have more coverage on this story in the coming week.