SANTA FE – Debra Clopton was painted as a dog lover by her defense lawyer Wednesday, but one animal control officer said he was “disgusted” by the living conditions of nearly 50 dogs that were seized from her Edgewood home in 2013.
Clopton, a 51-year-old former Rio Rancho veterinarian, is on trial in Santa Fe District Court for 22 animal cruelty charges in addition to a count of practicing veterinary medicine without a license. The online court docket for the case still shows a total of 52 charges, but prosecutors said in court Wednesday that several charges had been dropped, but did not say why.
Santa Fe County Animal Control officials seized 48 dogs from Clopton’s home on April 1, 2013, and took them to the county’s animal shelter, which was subsequently overrun by the dogs and the 42 puppies that were born to seven of the dogs while they were in the shelter. Three of the dogs were euthanized for neurological disease while five others had to be put down for being too aggressive and antisocial, according to a shelter official who testified Wednesday.
Animal Control officer Shawn Kesler was one of the many officials who took dogs from the home and described their living conditions to jurors Wednesday. He said officers had to put on hazmat suits and wear respirators – masks with two filters attached – to enter the home, and the smell is something he won’t soon forget.
“As soon as we opened the door, the smell hit us,” he said. “The smell, even with the respirators, took your breath away. Your eyes burned – it was pretty bad. The majority of the floor was covered in feces.”
Both Kesler and Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office Detective Nicole Romero testified that every corner of the double-wide trailer was covered in feces, including the kitchen counter. Romero said there was a bathtub full of newborn puppies that was also covered in feces, and there were also seven empty dog food bags filled with canine waste.
They said the dogs were aggressive and would fight one another while officers were there, and some of the dogs had bite wounds. Kesler said some dogs weren’t able to stand properly and would bang their heads against the floor and wall.
Even though some of the dogs were in bad physical shape, defense attorney Sydney West said in opening arguments that Clopton was a “serious dog lover” who used her five-acre property to treat the animals and provide a sanctuary until they could be adopted, although Clopton’s veterinarian license had been revoked a year prior to the raid.
“She had a dream to have a rescue facility,” West said. “It was the perfect place. She had room for them to exercise and they had shelter in the evening. … You’re going to see that there was absolutely no cruelty and no negligence.”
The trial is expected to last through Friday. Assistant District Attorney Estevan Sanchez, the lead prosecutor on the case, refused to explain why over two dozen charges against Clopton were dropped, saying he didn’t want to taint the jury’s decision.
“We’re not going to provide a comment given that the trial in ongoing,” Sanchez told the Journal. “We want to make sure (the jury) doesn’t see any of this.”