A Circuit Court judge has ordered that about 40 dogs kept on a Loudoun County farm be seized July 16, culminating more than a year of legal battles over the fate of a private no-kill animal shelter run by Cindy Becker.
Judge Carleton Penn found Becker in contempt this week after she failed to remove the animals earlier this month, as she had agreed to do. County officials began efforts to close the shelter in 1988 after neighbors complained about noise and odors, and alleged that some of Becker's dogs had attacked them on their property.
"This should have been done a long time ago," Billy Journelle, who lives near the private shelter, said in a telephone interview.
Becker's shelter, in a farm community near the village of Lincoln, houses stray dogs that might otherwise be put to death in the county's animal shelter. Becker and her attorney, David Moyes, said they fear that some of the older animals eventually will be killed if they are seized by county animal wardens because no one will want to adopt them.
Loudoun officials said this week that they plan to put most of the dogs at the county shelter near Waterford and will place the rest in private kennels. They said Becker will be given a chance to reclaim the animals if she can find a licensed kennel to take them and if she pays the county's expenses in seizing and boarding them -- about $400 a day.
A sobbing Becker, testifying in court Thursday, said she has no income and cannot afford such expenses. "I don't know what to do," she said.
In December 1988, the County Board of Supervisors voted not to grant a kennel permit to Becker, saying her converted horse barn near Route 727 did not meet county code standards. Those standards are the same ones that apply to commercial operations.
This year, Becker signed a consent order agreeing to move the dogs -- mostly Labrador retrievers and German shepherds -- within 120 days. She said a contract to sell her farm fell through and she assumed she could get the consent order extended. Assistant County Attorney John White told Penn this week that the county government has "bent over backwards" to give Becker time.
Becker and Moyes said they still hope to find a place to put the animals before the July 16 deadline. Penn warned Becker on Thursday not to try to circumvent his order by moving the dogs and later returning them to the Lincoln site.
Moyes said this week that "there's going to be a confrontation" if animal wardens try to seize the dogs.