Spindletop, County Reach Last-Minute Agreement

Clarification: The 2012 agreed order between Montgomery County and Leah Purcell, in which Purcell surrendered 287 dogs that a judge found were "cruelly treated," bars Purcell from operating an animal shelter, refuge, or rescue in Montgomery County. It does not prohibit her from boarding animals.

For more explanation, see the end of this article.

Spindletop Refuge owner Leah Purcell agreed to relinquish 287 dogs seized from her Willis ranch, but she still may face criminal charges under a last-minute agreement reached today.

Those who had placed dogs at Spindletop might be able to pick them up as early as this weekend, provided they have proof of ownership.

After hours of private pretrial negotiations, Purcell's attorney, Zandra Anderson, agreed to terms that bar Purcell from future rescue and boarding and also subject her to random animal welfare checks for two years. The case will be referred to a grand jury, which will decide whether to indict. (Purcell was allowed to reclaim 11 dogs belonging to her or her mother.)

The dogs are in the county's custody, and Constable Tim Holifield assured the anxious crowd who appeared for today's court hearing that the Humane Society of the United States, which assisted in the Spindletop seizure, is committed to not euthanizing any of the dogs.

We're glad to see the dogs are set to be returned to their owners soon, but the potential for criminal charges means that Purcell and Anderson will likely remain tight-lipped.

That's especially troubling to people like Garnell McMichael, who said she was told by a friend of Purcell's that two dogs she placed at Spindletop in March suffocated to death over a month ago.

McMichael, who drove in from Garland, was one of 40-odd people who came to today's hearing hoping to find out whether their dogs were among the 298 seized by county authorities Tuesday or among the 38 who allegedly suffocated after a building on the Willis ranch lost power.

Hair Balls was hoping to learn more about the county's evidence, and maybe hear a defense from Purcell or Anderson, who have declined to comment on the situation.

We just wonder why McMichael had to learn about her dogs' fate secondhand; it seems like the least Purcell and Anderson could do is provide the names of all dogs who died at Spindletop in the last six months. (We left a message for the friend and will update if we hear back.)

It's going to take awhile to piece together what exactly happened at Spindletop, which, according to Texas Secretary of State files, was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) in 2005 and then forfeited existence in 2007.

The three board members listed include Purcell's mother, Louise, and a Katrina Milano of Pennsylvania. We've only been able to speak with the third member, who asked us not to use her name. She said that she helped Purcell -- a friend at the time -- file the paperwork, but, to her knowledge, Spindletop was a 501(c)(3) in name only. There were no board meetings or updated filings (hence the dissolution in 2007).

It's also going to take awhile to gain an understanding of Purcell's non-rescue pursuits, which at one time included breeding and show competitions. (It doesn't look like Purcell has done much of either since 2002, if at all, but Anderson declined to say how long Purcell was involved with that stuff.)

It would have been nice if Purcell or Anderson could have at least taken McMichael aside and explain just exactly when and how two shelter pitties she entrusted to Purcell died. Their names were Angel and Poloka; McMichael said she fostered Angel for 18 months. She said she had to board the dogs after the City of Garland decided that her fencing was not up to code.

Like many others across the country, she was referred to Spindletop, the sanctuary with a sterling reputation. McMichael told us Purcell e-mailed her July 10 to say that Angel had been adopted. But now it appears that Angel -- and Poloka -- likely died a month earlier.

We're glad these dogs will be going home soon. But we figure McMichael, and all the others, deserve an explanation. We wonder if they'll ever get it.

Further clarification:Many of the dogs Purcell claimed to have been "boarding" at her Spindletop Dog Refuge were dogs that remained in her custody for up to four years after she told the owners the dogs had been adopted -- a practice that is not consistent with general boarding services.

Purcell would not be in violation of the court order if she is legitimately boarding animals.

Another condition of the court order is that Purcell "cooperates with Montgomery County and Montgomery County Animal control, via her attorney, so that any rightful owners of any of the 287 dogs may timely get possession of their dogs."

As noted in this week's story, Purcell and her attorney, Zandra Anderson, have refused to abide by that condition in at least two cases. In one case -- eight months after the Spindletop raid -- the owner of a dog "boarded" at Spindletop still has not heard from Purcell or Anderson.

This is an e-mail sent on October 24, 2012 -- two months after Purcell registered a website for a new animal care business -- from the Houston Press to Purcell, Anderson, and Montgomery County Animal Control Director Tim Holifield.

Hi Zandra,

I'm writing you on the record to see if you will disclose the whereabouts of a pit bull named Sophocles who Michelle Anderson left in Spindletop's care on April 27th. According to Michelle, Leah told her that Sophocles was adopted by "friends of friends" in Dallas.

If you are willing to say what happened to Sophocles, I will need a response from you by 5 p.m. today, Wednesday, Oct. 24. Please let me know if you need more information, although Leah Purcell should still have the paperwork. Your response, or lack thereof, will be noted in future articles.

Thanks, Craig

It was sent after the dog's owner contacted the Press after not getting a response from Purcell or Anderson as to whether her dog was alive, or was one of at least 30 who fatally overheated in a Spindletop building. To this date, the owner has no idea what happened to her dog.

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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow