SPEARFISH | Western Hills Humane Society staff members and volunteers have been inundated this week after Spearfish police officers seized 42 animals that were being transported between Washington state and Wisconsin.
“I’ve been doing this for three years, and I’d probably rank it as the worst I’ve ever seen,” Spearfish Animal Control Officer Tate Hayford said Thursday of the seizure last weekend.
The incident began about 10 p.m. Saturday when police officers were summoned to the Wal-Mart Super Center on the east side of town to investigate a man who store employees said was behaving erratically, Spearfish Police Lt. Boyd Dean said.
“This started out as a welfare check, but while officers were there, a couple of good Samaritans said, 'You may want to talk to the wife and check out their vehicle,'” Boyd said.
When officers made contact with the wife, 54-year-old Lisa V. Bietzel of Shullsburg, Wis., and inspected her Chevy Trailblazer, they found 36 dogs and six cats held in several 3-foot-by-2-foot kennels.
“These were all small-breed dogs like Yorkies and Chihuahuas,” Boyd said. “But it was so crowded, some of the dogs weren’t even able to lie down and had to stand.”
Officers immediately seized all 42 animals and arrested Bietzel on suspicion of animal neglect and mistreatment, a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by a year in the county jail and a $2,000 fine, the officer said.
Becky Rankin, co-director of Western Hills Humane Society, said most of the animals appeared to be in good health but were scared. One had an eye infection that Rankin said could have been caused by stress.
Humane society personnel have bathed and vaccinated the animals and de-wormed the puppies, she added.
Boyd declined to identify Bietzel’s husband due to his mental condition that spurred the initial call to police.
While the animals were being transported to the humane society, Lisa Bietzel was taken to the Lawrence County Jail in Deadwood, where she spent Saturday and Sunday nights. She made an initial appearance Monday morning in 4th Circuit Court before Judge Eric Strawn, who set an unsecured bond at $500, according to Deputy State’s Attorney Kari Nordstrom. Essentially, the ruling meant Bietzel was released on personal recognizance, and the judge set her arraignment for May 11, Nordstrom explained.
“I would expect this would be resolved prior to that,” Nordstrom said Thursday. “One of the things we have been talking about with her counsel is that she would immediately surrender the animals, allowing the humane society to take care of them. Some of these animals are pregnant, so more dogs are on the way.”
Boyd said Bietzel told officers she had transported multiple dogs to Washington and was returning to Wisconsin with other animals for breeding purposes. In 21 years on the Spearfish Police Department, Boyd said, he had never seen anything quite like it.
“I’ve seen cases before with multiple animals, but I’ve never seen 42 animals in one vehicle,” he said. “The smell I can only imagine.”
Spearfish Police Chief Pat Rotert and Boyd commended their officers for their probe that led to finding the animals and for taking quick action to secure their safety.
“This is one of those great stories in what the officers did, something we don’t hear about much,” Boyd said. “These officers rescued 42 animals. That’s the bottom line. Our officers and one of our dispatchers even volunteered their personal time to go out and help the humane society staff sort these animals out and clean them.”
Meanwhile, the addition of 42 new animals is taxing the resources of the Western Hills Humane Society, according to a prepared release from the nonprofit, no-kill organization.
“Now that legal ownership of the animals has been established, WHHS will begin the arduous task of veterinarian care — vaccination, spay/neuter, microchipping, and attending to those medical needs that are above routine,” the release stated. “It is estimated that WHHS will incur costs of $4,000-$5,000.”
Once organized and cared for, the dogs will be available for adoption, the agency said. People interested in adoption may fill out paperwork for pre-approval, but actual adoption dates may be weeks away, according to the release. Applications for adoption are available on the shelter website at westernhillshumanesociety.com.
On Thursday afternoon, blanket-lined dog crates filled the lobby area of the shelter with two or three puppies housed in each crate. Some wrestled and roughhoused inside the crates, biting each other’s ears and chasing tails. Others slept peacefully, cuddled in clean blankets.
“If we were a big shelter like in Minneapolis this wouldn’t be a problem, but with us being so small it’s a big burden,” Rankin, the co-director of the humane society, said.
Rankin said one of the organization’s biggest challenges with the influx of dogs was keeping everything clean, and she urged anyone with extra time and the inclination to volunteer to help clean the shelter at 8 a.m. each day.
“If we had a sickness at the shelter right now it would be devastating,” she said. “We could be completely wiped out.”
In addition to seeking volunteers, the Western Hills Humane Society is asking for donations of IAMS adult small bites dog food, bleach and laundry soap, she said.