MADRAS — Cora Gooding-Murphy, the Culver dog breeder whose Australian shepherds were seized by authorities, suffered a defeat Wednesday in Jefferson County Circuit Court when she tried to convince a judge to let her keep 55 seized dogs before her trial starts.
The dogs, which were seized in a raid June 29, are living at the Three Rivers Humane Society in Madras.
Gooding-Murphy’s attorney, Jered Reid, said in court that the case is “one of the most egregious examples of police abuse of power I’ve ever seen.”
“Fifty-five of 57 dogs were in perfectly good health,” Reid said, referring to testimony from a veterinarian who inspected the dogs. “Dogs that are neglected are not in ‘good’ or ‘fairly good’ health.”
Two of her dogs have died at the shelter.
Gooding-Murphy remains charged with two counts of second-degree animal neglect.
The case has been emotionally charged and complex, given the number of animals involved and their different living conditions at the breeder’s ranch, Waggin’ on Wiggle Butt Aussies.
The state on July 23 filed a motion in criminal court to forfeit the dogs due to the high cost to board them at Three Rivers. Meanwhile, Gooding-Murphy’s attorney filed a motion on July 25 in civil court challenging a lien placed on the dogs.
Oregon law requires defendants to challenge liens within 30 days of being charged with a crime or risk forfeiting their property. Adding to the case’s complexity, the two motions cited different legal authorities.
This led to a two-day quasi criminal-civil hearing held Aug. 9 and 14 to determine if the dogs had been lawfully seized, and who should pay for their ongoing care. The hearing featured testimony from the director of the humane society, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputy who investigated Gooding-Murphy, the veterinarian who inspected the dogs and several people who worked on the ranch. The hearing concluded with a mixed ruling that favored the state.
Judge Daina Vitolins ruled sheriff’s deputies had probable cause to seize the majority of the 57 dogs. Nine of the 57, however, were found to have been seized unlawfully, though the state does not have to return them to Gooding-Murphy before trial.
A Three Rivers employee said the shelter has been besieged with inquiries from people interested in adopting one of the dogs. For the moment, though, the dogs cannot be adopted.
Four of the females have since given birth and were likely pregnant when they arrived at the shelter.
Two of the dogs have died since arriving at the shelter, Three Rivers Director Steve Drynan said under questioning from the defense attorney. One of the dogs died after contracting parvovirus. The other, a puppy, accidentally drowned in a water bowl.
Gooding-Murphy operated her breeding business at her Loucks Road ranch since 2014, according to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office. She had a kennel permit with Jefferson County from 2014 to 2018. When she failed to renew in 2019, the sheriff’s office sent her a letter.
According to court testimony, Gooding-Murphy was living in Washington from January to May. During this time, caretakers oversaw the ranch, which also featured horses, cats, goats and other animals. But decisions about their care were said to have gone through Gooding-Murphy.
The case began when Aimee Elverud, a woman who lived at the ranch and cared for horses, reported alleged neglect of the dogs to the sheriff’s office.
According to testimony, Gooding-Murphy had a falling out with Elverud and asked her to leave the property. Elverud said she went to authorities.
Steve Keever, Jefferson County Sheriff’s animal control deputy, had inspected the property numerous time since 2014 as part of the county’s kennel permit process. When he returned this year, however, he said feces was piled up, and the water system was inoperable. Also, in the early years of the breeding business, Gooding-Murphy kept about 20 to 30 dogs, but that number had shot up due to several litters being born around the same time.
No trial date is set, as several more legal issues remain to be addressed. But because of the high cost of caring for the dogs, a judge could ask Gooding-Murphy to pay $13.58 per adult dog per day if she wants to retain them before her trial. With the current court calendar, it could end up costing her tens of thousands of dollars to hold the dogs until a resolution in the case.
Gooding-Murphy typically sells the dogs for between $2,000 and $15,000, according to the breeder’s website.
Dylan Hart, Gooding-Murphy’s dog caretaker, on Wednesday described his care routine for the dogs. He said he was in the middle of his morning chores when sheriff’s deputies arrived on the property, accompanied by a veterinarian. He had yet to pick up the dog poop, as he did every morning, though he intended to, he said.
“I wasn’t able to pick up the feces and do the water,” he told the court.
Hart said since the dogs were seized, coyotes have begun reemerging near the ranch.
“With the dogs, the coyotes never came around,” he said.
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