Animal Cruelty Case Reveals Extent of Abuse At Shelter

Sandra I. Cortes
Sandra I. Cortes (Courtesy Of Prince William Count - Courtesy Of Prince William Count)
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By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 5, 2008

One by one, their pictures appeared on the screen. There was Yeager, a collie mix, who had fleas, dermatitis, two ear infections and heartworm. Wilma, a German shepherd-chow mix, who had pneumonia and was malnourished. And Annie, an underweight, deaf pit bull who was injured by other hungry dogs that were trying to eat the buried remains of three others, according to witness testimony.

Last week, a Prince William County judge heard evidence in an animal cruelty case against two women at a Manassas property that billed itself as an animal rescue operation.

Sandra I. Cortes, 44, of Annandale was found guilty by Judge Peter W. Steketee in General District Court of 27 counts of animal cruelty.

Cortes, the president of Assisi's Animal Rescue Foundation, will be sentenced Dec. 8.

Brenda E. Dodson, 30, a caretaker with the foundation, pleaded guilty to 27 counts of animal cruelty and was sentenced to 18 months in jail and 20 years of supervised probation, during which time she is not to have contact with animals.

In explaining his decision to Cortes, Steketee said Cortes was "overwhelmed" by the number of animals she had.

"Ultimately, the burden was upon your shoulders" to care for the animals, he said. "You failed, and that was cruelty."

During Cortes's two-day trial, the prosecutor, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Sandra R. Sylvester, said Cortes was running "a puppy mill" aimed at turning a profit, not helping animals.

She said Cortes arranged for the transfer of free dogs from out-of-state kennels and then sold them locally for up to $300 each at adoption events, all the while neglecting their care.

"She wants you to believe this was all philanthropic," Sylvester told Steketee in her closing arguments. The dogs "were so hungry, they were eating dirt because it contained the remains of dead dogs."

Cortes's lawyer, Chris Feldmann, said that his client "was attempting to save these dogs and rescue them" and that the animals were "in somewhat poor condition when they arrived" at the property, in the 7600 block of Old Centreville Road.

The charges stemmed from a May 5 raid at the three-acre property, in which Cortes voluntarily surrendered 95 dogs, including three corpses buried in the yard, and more than a dozen cats to the county.

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