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Depauw couple charged with child neglect, animal cruelty

December 21, 2011 | 10:36 AM

A Depauw couple was in Harrison Superior Court Monday after being charged with four counts of Class A misdemeanor cruelty to an animal and one count of Class D felony neglect of a dependent.

Randall Lee (click for larger version)
Randall T. and Samantha Sue Lee, both of the 5700 block of Milltown-Frenchtown Road, spent less than an hour in jail and were released after each posted a $200 surety bond.

The Lees were charged after 36 cats, three dogs and four chickens were removed from their home on Nov. 17, and the Department of Child Services told the couple that their two children had to stay elsewhere until the home's living conditions were deemed more suitable. The children returned home after a couple of days.

Four of the cats have since died.

Samantha Lee (click for larger version)
"The scene inside the home shocks the consciousness of a seasoned public servant. It was something that had to be seen to be believed," Harrison County Animal Control Officer Bruce LaHue said last month. "The smell of feces, urine, molding clothing and rotting food caused your nostrils to swell shut and made it difficult to breathe. There was feline diarrhea on the floor, and ... there was two inches of water in the basement and a mattress where it appeared one of the children slept. The entire scene was absolutely unbelievable."

Samantha Lee runs an in-home, no-kill cat rescue shelter under the name Frisky Felines Foundation. One of the mission statements of the organization, which doesn't appear to have any type of nonprofit status, says, "We believe every cat has the right to live and has the right to live free of hunger, cold, abuse and loneliness."

On her Facebook page, Samantha Lee says she has worked for Barbour Lane Animal Hospital in Louisville. Barbour Lane would only say that she had worked there but it was several years ago; they declined further comment.

"This case has put a tremendous strain on Harrison County's Animal Control. We have had to ask the public to wait a little longer for many of the routine services we normally provide," LaHue said Monday. "The influx of sick animals has also forced the temporarily shutdown of our adoption operation, which usually picks up this time of year.

"It has been extremely hard on the staff and volunteers," he said. "The positive side of this case is, thanks to the cooperative efforts of the Harrison County Sheriff's Department, the Harrison County Prosecutor's Office, Milltown Marshal Ray Saylor, the State Board of Animal Health, Smith Animal Clinic and countless donors, we have removed animals from harm's way and provided them with the care necessary to live a normal life. We did our job with the laws we have to work with. The animals in this case are now receiving humane care and can be considered safe.

"As for Randall and Samantha Lee, they are innocent until proven guilty," he said. "Their fate is in the hands of our justice system and God. I'm OK with that because in God I have faith."

The case has generated a veterinary bill of $7,400, most of which will be absorbed by donations, LaHue said.

A report was filed last week by District 8 Field Technician Dr. Jodi Lovejoy of the Indiana State Board of Animal Health who evaluated the animals and rated them using the Purina Body Condition Scoring System. The animals were rated on a 1.0 to 9.0 scale where 1.0 is emaciated, 9.0 is extremely obese and normal body condition is 5.0. The presence or absence of periodontal disease was also noted in the report.

She said that of the 36 cats, 21 scored in the 1.0 to 2.0 range, and nine others were in the 2.5 to 3.5 range. Six of the cats scored in the 4.0 to 4.5 range.

Of the dogs, one was scored 7.0 (heavy) while the other two were in the normal range of 4.5 to 5.0. One of the dogs also tested positive for heartworms.

Two of the four chickens were in thin body condition, while the other two were in good condition.

Lovejoy noted that half of the cats had an active upper respiratory infection at the time she evaluated them, and some of the cats were infected with feline infectious peritonitis, Bordetella bronchiseptica, Chlamydophila felis and Mycoplasma felis. Both C. felis and M. felis may cause disease or may be present in healthy cats. Death rate in cats showing clinical signs of FIP is approximately 95 percent.

Twenty-two of the cats had eye problems such as redness and discharge.

Lovejoy said the only two cats known to be vaccinated for rabies were two feral cats. The Lees did not provide rabies vaccination information for the majority of the cats and none of the dogs. (Rabies vaccination of all dogs, cats and ferrets over three months of age is required in Indiana.)

Lovejoy said several photos of living conditions of the animals as provided by LaHue showed multiple litter boxes, most of which contained substantial amounts of cat feces, and the presence of cat feces outside of the litter boxes. Some of the feces noted were not properly formed, indicating the cat(s) had diarrhea. Feces were documented around floor vents and a door, she said.

The three dogs were kept in kennels. A Dalmatian was kept on the Lees' porch in a cage that did not provide adequate room for movement of the animal, nor was it able to separate itself from its bodily waste.

A black Lab-type dog was housed next to the house in a kennel that had no flooring. The kennel was muddy and wet, and the dog had no dry area to sit or lay down, the report said.

A chocolate Lab had a doghouse in its kennel. The ground surface of the kennel area appeared to be extremely muddy and wet, and there appeared to be little to no bedding present.

Lovejoy expressed concern about the cats' living conditions in the Lees' home, as well.

The photos "show large volumes of assorted material inside the home and sharp objects being present. These two situations can lead to possible entrapment and/or physical trauma to animals (or people) living within the residence," the report reads. "Additional photos showed the presence of an excessive amount of fecal material."

In Lovejoy's conclusion about the animals, she said, "Mrs. Lee states (on her website) that she worked as a veterinary technician for six years and has an educational background in animal care. With this in mind, it is difficult to understand how she allows mingling of clinically ill cats with other cats, how she does not practice any type of biosecurity to prevent or decrease the likelihood of disease transmission from animal to animal, such as quarantining of new or ill cats, and practice good hygiene such as removing fecal material on a daily basis. ... Additionally, with her self-reported medical background, she should be keenly aware of the health implications for people being around ill animals and living in a feces contaminated environment.

"The health and well-being of the cats are in immediate jeopardy and require immediate intervention, veterinary examination and treatment. The health and well-being of the dogs are not in immediate jeopardy but are lacking required care."

"There appears to be an overall disregard for the health and well-being of the animals owned and cared for by Randall and Samantha Lee. Their lack of adequate care for the animals, the cats in particular, indicates that they are either unable or unwilling to provide normal, common care for the animals they own."

On Jan. 14 of last year, 21 animals were seized from the same house and some had to be euthanized. Her children were required to leave the home then, too, but criminal charges were not filed by then-prosecutor Dennis Byrd.

  1. print email
    Those poor children
    December 22, 2011 | 08:50 AM

    All I can think about are those poor kids.

    Concerned in Southern Indiana
  2. print email
    Great follow up Alan!
    December 22, 2011 | 10:09 AM

    This is my facebook page folks. As you'll see, Samantha told me outright all of these animals WERE vaccinated and yet two show up with rabies and half have active upper respiratory? And NONE were considered normal weight based on 5.0 being normal.

    You have taken the lives of how many animals that needed a place to go this season and had no where due to your apparent behavior. You should be ashamed! And to boot, apparently you aren't an honest person either. Just shameful!

    Alan, when will they be appearing in court locally so the animal rescue community can take a stand?

    Connie Goodwin
  3. print email
    The kids
    December 22, 2011 | 10:47 PM

    Ideally if they keep animals out of her home 1/2 the problems for the kids may be solved. I would hope CPS is keeping tabs on that. I don't personally know that much about how CPS operates though.

    Connie Goodwin
  4. print email
    We need better Animal Cruelty Laws and enforcement!
    December 23, 2011 | 12:07 AM

    How could a situation like this have only drawn "four counts of Class A misdemeanor cruelty to an animal" ??!!! If less than a year ago "21 animals were seized from the same house and some had to be euthanized" how in the world did it get so bad again? Is there no oversight?? Actually I know exactly how this happened and why it is only a misdemeanor. KY and IN do not have stricter animal cruelty laws because it is not a priority for our government and enforcement is expensive. Please write to our elected officials to let them know that we need stricter laws so that this kind of abuse and neglect stops!

    Shanni Fox
  5. print email
    Abuse prevention
    December 23, 2011 | 07:30 PM

    Whoever abuses children or animals should never again have contact with either. All God's creatures deserve respect, love, and care for their needs.

    Theresa B
  6. print email
    Shanni we are in total agreement!
    December 23, 2011 | 10:16 PM

    Read some of the posts from people that want Bruce to act as a darn dog catcher. Sorry, my animals got out due to a windstorm and I got my butt out and caught every last one of my own dogs!

    We need to police the hoarders, puppy mills and dog fighters in this area. We also need to have mandatory spay/neuter laws to reduce the population. I've seen more than I care to have seen of animals abused and mistreated over the past couple years!

    I hope they at least throw the book at the felony for those children since we have no hard core laws for the animals. Both need to be protected.

    Connie Goodwin
  7. print email
    Enough about the animals, focus on the KIDS !!!!
    December 24, 2011 | 08:18 AM

    Yes, we are all concerned about the conditions of the animals but this article barely discussed the implications that this had on the children. ...
    I am so angry with these people that I can't put it into words. I can't even refer to them as 'parents'. My family knows and loves the middle child in this family. We knew there were problems but had no idea it was this bad. We are praying for the kids. The adults should be ashamed for what they have done to their children !

    Angry in Southern Indiana
  8. print email
    December 24, 2011 | 12:14 PM

    Why is LaHue giving interviews? This county is notorious for dumb statements to the media! In the hands of the justice system and GOD? What does god have to do with anything? Why does religion have anything to do with anaimal cruelty or child neglect? If he has time to do interviews, he has time to catch up on the animal work that needs to be finished. Everyone wants there 15 seconds of local fame and it gets old. Stop the gossip, dumb interviews, religious references, and do what the tax payers pay you to do.

  9. print email
    Enough is enough!!
    December 24, 2011 | 09:20 PM

    ... As for the animals. Samantha worked for a vet as a tech over 10 yrs ago. She has no business with animals in her home. She had 3 horses that stood out in the field at her current home and were starving to death with no shelter. They have since disappeared. I have hopes that someone took them, but I don't know. The Lee's are 2 people that need to learn a lesson. ... I hope that this time for the sake of the chldren and more animals, that they get the maximum penalty by law and do some jail time. Even then, the living conditions and care would be better than their children and animals have gotten

  10. print email
    Something may be read wrong in my comment
    December 26, 2011 | 12:46 PM

    I wasn't stating to showed up having rabies. I was stating that two showed up being vaccinated. As I read that comment I realized that may be mistaken in the way I phrased it. She told me all the animals were vaccinated. Actually, she said they were vaccinated with FVRCP shots: If you don't know what that is: I'm not saying it's impossible, but I have never seen a cat that has been vaccinated for this get a severe upper respiratory infection. From what I've read FIP can present as a mild upper respiratory.

    I guess from her comments to me and what I'm reading here it doesn't add up. And she vaccinates for upper respiratory but only 2 rabies and she's a rescue? I don't know of any rescues that don't vaccinate for upper respiratory and rabies and spay/neuter. Rabies is law in our county!

    But, I did want to be clear that I was referring to vaccinating.

    Connie Goodwin
  11. print email
    December 27, 2011 | 12:26 PM

    First and foremost, I don't condone the poor treatment of God's creatures, whether they have two or for legs. And that is where God comes into it. Mankind was given authority over the creatures of the air, water and land. If you don't believe this, that is your option. If LaHue does, that is his and mine. Who would you rather the Democrat interview? LaHue is the person the county has selected to run this department. If you don't like how he runs it, work through channels to have him replaced. Otherwise, the Democrat can interview the fry cook at Burger King on the issue. That should prove informative.

    In my humble opinion, and I'm not saying I'm right or wrong, the Lees probably started with the best of intentions and because the animal rescue community did not stand up earlier, the problem got out of hand. If they, rightfully or not, stood up for the animal rescue community when nobody else would, how can you fault them?

    Through this article, you have only heard one side of the story. The only information I have on the story is the information given in this article. Some questions that I have are what would have happened to these animals in the care of the county? Would they be better off, or dead? If neither had taken them in, would they be toppling my trash cans searching for a meal? Would they be lying dead after being hit by a car?

    The real problem is how people treat their pets. The situation the Lees were found in is a problem, don't get me wrong, but the first domino started with the first owner.

    Straight Shooter
  12. print email
    The Children !!!!!
    December 27, 2011 | 03:59 PM

    I did not notice any one spending much time talking about the kids.The one child sleeping in a basement on a matteress with an inch of water in the basement floor I am sure that matteress had to be wet. Now I love animals and they should pay for what they did to the animals, They should also have to be held responabile for the conditations those kids had to live in. I have read all these statements and everyone mainly spoke of punishment for the animals. I can't believe that anyone would believe that any (cat's/chicken/dog's) - health is more importain than a child. And DCS did not even take custody of these 2 children just made them go some where else till the home was clean. Really. How sad !! DCS dropped the ball on this play !! I do agree with what everyone on here is saying. Please don't get me wrong. But the children would be my main concern and the animals would be my 2nd. That child could have gotten any type of dease from the basement , dirty water and sick animals and mole Did any one take the chidren to the doctor to be checked out to see if they are sick or over or under weight? If the smell was that bad I cant imanage how the children could even sleep there. I think they need to be chared with the conditations of both the animals and the children. Nelect of one child and thats it. ... I am so sorry for the children and the animals.

    Worried about the children
  13. print email
    To Straight Shooter
    December 27, 2011 | 05:11 PM

    As Ms. Goodwin can attest (because she saw the interaction), when this story first broke I gave Samantha Lee an opportunity to comment. At first she said she would. Then she said she had to wait for a vet to call her back before she could comment. Then she said she wouldn't comment. Then she said she was on the phone talking to an attorney so she could file a lawsuit claiming The Corydon Democrat "slandered" her.

    I've attempted to get "the other side," but the Lees aren't willing to give an explanation.

    I just wanted to let you know that I tried (multiple times) to be fair and balanced. In this case, one side doesn't want to cooperate. I've found thus far, however, that some of the photos were far too graphic for publication and were exactly as Mr. LaHue and law enforcement officers at the scene had described to me when the story first came out. Mrs. Lee contends they are lying (and I'm assuming that's why she believed we "slandered" her), but, so far I've found everything they've said to be accurate.


    Alan Stewart
  14. print email
    December 28, 2011 | 08:28 AM

    Alan, Hello!! Mr. and Mrs. Lee have charges against them. The best thing they can do for themselves is keep their mouth shut, no interview.

    These two folks are no worse than Connie and Shanni in these post. In my oppinion maybe better. I beleve that the saw a need and tried to fix it. They did something instead of just complain that the government needs to do this, or more of that, or pass another law.
    They did not want these animal at the Harrison County shelter ... They actually wanted more than 10% of them to have a chance to live. I seem to be hearing that the "right" thing to do is to get them to the shelter asap, let the cute ones get adopted, and the other 88% get killed while they are a 5 or better on the purina scale.
    BTW, I'm still looking for a follow-up story on the Garwood situation.

  15. print email
    December 29, 2011 | 09:18 AM


    I asked for an interview a couple of weeks PRIOR to charges being filed against them (after the seizure of the animals). I asked for an interview after, as well. I could certainly understand not wanting to say anything after the charges.

    As for the Garwood update, the last update was in August, when they were awarded summary judgement against the state. They've since filed a tort claim but nothing else has transpired since October, when U.S. District Court remanded the case back to Harrison County.


    Alan Stewart
  16. print email
    Response to Allen
    December 30, 2011 | 08:19 AM


    This article has moved off the front page of the website, so I'm not entirely sure my response will be seen, however, my comments were not meant as a slander to your article, only that there was one side represented. You have done your due dilligence and written a very good article. I can understand the Lee's not wanting to respond, the only thing I could offer is a short sentence that they were offered the chance to respond and had not by the time of the article. Again, that was not the intention of my original posting.

    Please accept my compliments on a well written article.

    Straight Shooter
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