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UPDATED: Former vet given deadline

SANTA FE — A former veterinarian facing animal cruelty charges after 48 dogs were seized from her Edgewood home April 1 has to cover a $900-per-day tab as long as the dogs are kennelled at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter — unless she agrees to give up the canines for adoption.

Under state District Judge Sarah Singleton’s ruling Monday, Debra Clopton will have 15 days from when the judge’s formal order is filed to post the “security” money to cover the cost to taxpayers for holding the dogs.

Santa Fe County’s bill at the nonprofit shelter, running up at $20 per dog per day, is already well more than $12,000. The county filed a court petition last week seeking an order that Clopton post money for the shelter expenses.

Under Singleton’s order, if Clopton doesn’t come up with the security money, the dogs will be deemed abandoned and the shelter will be free to find new homes for the dogs.

Or Clopton could decide on her own before the 15-day deadline to give up all or some of the dogs.

Scott Pistone, Clopton’s lawyer, said after the court hearing that he would have to talk to Clopton to see what she wants to do.

“All options are on the table at this point,” he said.

It was not clear what would happen to the shelter bill if Clopton gives up the dogs now. After the hearing, lawyers in the case had different takes on whether Clopton would have to pay the shelter expenses that have been racked up already. Pistone said that issue could be up to the judge to decide.

Pistone also said that under the state statute that allows defendants in animal cruelty cases to be charged for the public expense of sheltering their animals pending trial, Clopton would be reimbursed for the shelter costs if she is acquitted of her charges.

Clopton, 48, was charged with 48 counts of animal cruelty last week, based on the reportedly poor living conditions for the dogs that deputies found when the animals were seized from her home April 1. She also faces felony charges for possession of restricted veterinarian drugs.

Three of the seized dogs already have been euthanized because of neurological problems.

Pistone said Clopton, whose veterinarian license was revoked last year, “loves animals” and wants to make sure the seized dogs “are treated correctly.”

Pistone maintained there is no basis for the criminal charges Clopton faces. “There is no intent (to harm the dogs) from someone who loves animals,” he said.

Clopton, who was about 45 minutes late for the court hearing, didn’t speak in court and didn’t talk to reporters afterward.

Pistone said “this is not a simple case” and noted that dogs at the shelter are said to be doing well. There are no allegations of torture or killing, he added. “I think the charges are just a little bit blown out of proportion,” Pistone told reporters.

He noted that the euthanized dogs had neurological disease, not problems caused by abuse.

Testimony from officers

At Monday’s hearing, Singleton heard testimony from two Santa Fe County animal control officers. Audrey Esquibel testified that under the county’s contract with the animal shelter, the county is charged $20 per day per dog to hold animals seized for animal cruelty cases.

She said county doesn’t have money in its budget to cover the escalating cost of holding Clopton’s dogs, which she said are mostly doing well at the shelter.

Officer Shawn Kesler described the scene on the day the dogs were seized from Clopton’s place, a double-wide trailer home on five acres. Deputies were responding to complaints about barking, a group of dogs killing another dog and the number of dogs on the property. The county code allows as many as 10 dogs on a single property.

Kesler said the property was covered with piles of feces and there were also dog food bags full of the dog waste. The dogs had cuts and scars and some of them were bleeding, and one had a soft-ball-sized growth or cyst hanging from its neck. The dogs were aggressive and were fighting and biting each other, Kesler testified.

Inside the trailer and in a sun room, floors were covered with feces, newspapers soaked with urine and trash. In a couple of cases, there were two dogs in kennels made for one and there was one dog was in a kennel so small the dog had rubbed sores on itself. A mother dog and seven puppies were found in a bathroom.

“Not any kind of animal should live like that, in my opinion,” Kesler said of the conditions.

Also at the hearing, Judge Singleton — who said she gets all her dogs from the animal shelter — emphasized that it wasn’t her who signed the court order allowing three of the Clopton dogs to be put down, as a sheriff’s office spokesman had previously said. Another judge approved the order.


5:35am 4/10/13 — Ex-vet faces 48 cruelty counts

By T.S. Last/Journal Staff Writer

SANTA FE — A former Rio Rancho veterinarian was charged with 48 counts of animal cruelty in state District Court in Santa Fe on Tuesday, a result of a search by sheriff’s deputies at the woman’s home in Edgewood last week.

Investigators found what were described as “deplorable” conditions at the home of Debra Clopton, 48, whose license was revoked by the New Mexico Board of Veterinary Medicine last year.

They also found 48 dogs of various sizes and breeds, which have been transported to the Santa Fe County Animal Shelter. Three of the dogs were euthanized due to a neurological disease.

District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco said the charges were brought under the state’s statute covering cruelty to animals and included negligently mistreating, abandoning or failing to provide necessary sustenance to an animal.

The case has been assigned to Judge Stephen Pfeffer. No arraignment date has been set.

Attempts to reach Clopton on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Pacheco said she couldn’t comment specifically on the case, but did say that her office has never prosecuted a case involving so many animals.

“From everyone’s perspective, the big concern is for the health and safety of the animals right now,” she said.

Also Tuesday, Santa Fe County government filed a petition, also in district court, asking that Clopton be required to pay the costs of housing the dogs at the shelter. The county is seeking security in the amount of $20 per day per dog, totalling $900 per day. The dogs have been at the shelter since April 1.

A hearing in that matter has been set for Monday.

The sheriff’s office previously charged and arrested Clopton on felony counts of possession of controlled substances commonly used by veterinarians — euthasol, a narcotic used to euthanize animals, and the steroid dexamethasone. The drugs were found along with the dogs during the search of her Edgewood residence, according to the sheriff’s office.

Clopton posted a $5,000 surety bond to get out of jail in Santa Fe last week.

Meanwhile, Clopton is also facing 19 charges brought by police in Rio Rancho, where she used to live.

Sgt. Nicholas Onken, spokesman for the Rio Rancho Police Department, told the Journal last week that the agency has been dealing with Clopton for some time.

As was the case in Edgewood, the matter was first brought to the attention of authorities after neighbors complained of loud barking and feces piling up in the backyard. Clopton was cited for not having proper vaccination or registration for the 10 dogs at that residence. The city ordinance limits the number of dogs that can be housed at a home to five.

One dead cat and several others still alive were also found in the home.

Onken told the Journal that Rio Rancho police were informed that Clopton moved from her Enchanted Hills home within the past two months. The home is now in foreclosure.

Overcrowding at shelter

Meanwhile, officials at the animal shelter in Santa Fe are trying to deal with an overcrowding problem caused by the 45 new inhabitants that arrived last week.

Now that charges have been filed, the dogs are considered evidence.

“For us, the issue is the static holding of animals,” said Mary Martin, the shelter’s executive director. “When we have to take animals like this we can’t just close our doors, so we’re scrambling around, with significant expense to our organization, and that’s the challenge.”

Ben Swan, the shelter’s public information officer, said the shelter has only 65 kennels, so other animals have been transported to private boarding kennels.

“It’s a logistical nightmare,” he said.

Swan said the brood includes a mother nursing seven puppies, but most of the dogs are probably 2 or 3 years old. He said a lot of them appear to be heeler and shepherd mixes, and many of them would make good pets if they could be adopted out.

“It’s amazing how well they’ve responded to our care,” he said.


4/2/13 — Veterinarian’s home called ‘deplorable’

By Elaine D. Briseño/Journal Staff Writer

Investigators removing dogs from the Edgewood home of a former Rio Rancho veterinarian wore protective gear due to the conditions described as "deplorable."

Investigators removing dogs from the Edgewood home of a former Rio Rancho veterinarian wore protective gear due to conditions described as “deplorable.” (Courtesy KOAT-TV)

Reports of dogs killing each other and loud barking led the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office to the Edgewood home of former Rio Rancho veterinarian Debra Clopton with a search warrant Monday.

What investigators found when they got there, according Lt. William Pacheco, spokesman for the sheriff’s office, were at least 20 dogs and terrible living conditions.

“It’s deplorable,” he said. “There’s dog feces everywhere and the smell is horrendous. The detectives are wearing safety suits and masks, and have told me it’s very unhealthy in there.”

Pacheco said detectives believe there are at least 20 more dogs on the property and authorities would be there until the early morning hours. He said the dogs are being taken to the Santa Fe County animal shelter.

Pacheco said a veterinarian with the Doña Ana County Animal Cruelty Task Force is on site assessing each animal. The task force is part of the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office and was called in because it specializes in cases of animal abuse and neglect. Clopton could be charged with animal cruelty depending on the care and condition of the animals.

Clopton, whose age was not available, was not under arrest, he said.

Pacheco said that the animals ranged in size and breed, and that some were so sick they were having a hard time standing.

The investigation started about three weeks ago, he said, after Santa Fe County animal control officers received at least seven complaints from neighbors. Animal control officers also believe the dogs were killing each other.

“To me, it sounded like a dog kennel, like if you go to a dog kennel and hear all the dogs barking,” KOAT-TV reported a neighbor saying. “And it sounds like a lot of fighting.”

The New Mexico Board of Veterinary Medicine revoked Clopton’s license according to its online records. The reasons behind the revocation were not available online and the board office was closed for the day Monday.

This is not the first time Clopton, who formerly owned Animal Wellness P.C. in Rio Rancho, has been in trouble with the law over animal issues.

Sgt. Nicholas Onken, spokesman for the Rio Rancho Police Department, said that agency has been dealing with Clopton for some time, and that she came to the department’s attention after neighbors complained about feces piling up in the backyard of her former Enchanted Hills home, as well as a lot of barking.

She was cited for not having proper vaccination or registration for her animals. She had 10 dogs, twice as many as is allowed by city ordinance. Onken said police recently issued a warrant for her arrest for failing to come into compliance by registering and vaccinating her pets.

Onken said the Rio Rancho police were told that Clopton moved from her home some time in the past two months. The home is now in foreclosure and the bank gave police permission to enter it last week. He said they found at least one dead cat inside, several cats still alive and unlivable conditions.

“It was not fit for humans to live in, much less animals,” he said. “There was animal feces on the floor. It was in a state of filth.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal