Michigan man with 108 dogs banned from owning animals

LAWRENCE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The owner of the rural Van Buren County home where authorities rescued more than 100 animals will no longer be allowed to own or possess any animals.

The restrictions are part of Donald Smith’s punishment, handed down by a Van Buren County circuit court judge Monday morning.

Smith and his wife, Melissa Kay Copen, were charged with animal cruelty on June 29, after animal control officers took 108 dogs, six cats and a horse from their home in the 56000 block of 52nd Avenue in Lawrence Township, west of Paw Paw.

Deputies said the conditions were so horrible that officers had to wear respiratory masks as they spent eight hours rounding up the animals.

Lt. David Walker said the home’s floors were covered in animal waste, there was a lack of food and water, and some of the dogs were underweight and had mange, fleas, deformities and injuries.

Copen said she and her husband took in the first five dogs two years ago as part of a rescue program, but she got overwhelmed as the population exploded.

However, records show the couple had previous legal trouble linked to animals in their care.

Smith and Copen were previously charged with animal cruelty after officers found too many animals in their Allegan home in 2001, but Copen said that case was dismissed and the animals were returned to them.

Smith also had dozens of animal-related violations.

Court records show the couple agreed to let animal control officers randomly inspect their home to ensure their animals were safe, but it appears that never happened. The head of the Van Buren County Animal Control blamed the couple for the missed inspections, saying they hadn’t registered their animals.

In this case, Smith and Copen each pleaded guilty to one count of animal cruelty on Sept.29. A second count of animal cruelty against Copen was dismissed.

As part of his sentence, Smith was sentenced to time served (two days) in jail, 40 hours of community service and 12-24 months of probation, depending on whether he pays all fines and cost.

Smith must also take part in a mental health assessment and cannot work with any animals.

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