Athens Review, Athens, Texas

December 21, 2012

SPCA gains custody of dogs

Motion follows agreement Friday between animals’ owner and Henderson County prosecutors

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

Athens — Dogs seized in a Dec. 17 raid of a Lake Athens residence will remain in custody of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals following an agreement Friday between the animals’ owner and Henderson County prosecutors.

The Henderson County Attorney’s Office reported that Deborah Linn Eckeberger waived her right to a hearing Friday, minutes before the proceeding was to take place in Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Kelly Harris’ Court in Poynor.

In addition to waiving the hearing, Eckeberger also signed documents giving up her ownership rights to the dogs, effectively terminating her ownership, and leaving the dogs in the care and custody of the SPCA.

“I’m glad she voluntarily waived,” County Attorney Clint Davis said. “That was our primary objective this morning, to at least get those 106 animals out of her custody, and into better hands.”

Eckeberger still faces criminal charges in connection with the dogs. She was arrested in July for cruelty to animals, and was sentenced to probation with community supervision in October. On Monday, after the seizure of the dogs, Eckeberger was arrested on a motion-to-revoke community supervision.

“We will continue to work on the motion to revoke that we’ve already filed,” County Attorney Clint Davis said. “As far as whether or not we’ll file new charges is something we’ll review over the next few weeks. This week, our focus was working with the SPCA, and getting ready for the hearing we thought was going to take place this morning.”

SPCA officials were in Poynor Friday awaiting word on the fate of the animals.

“This is a tough situation, no matter how you look at it,” SPCA of Texas Vice President of Communications Maura Davies said. “It’s tough for the animals, and tough for the people involved.

After authorities removed the animals Monday, they were taken to an SPCA facility in McKinney.

“Since Monday, they have been examined by our medical staff,” Davies said. “Right now, what we’ll be doing is individually-evaluating the animals for their potential placement or adoption on a case-by-case basis, and offering them any treatment that they need.”

All of the health issues that were evident when the animals were seized, such as skin problems, eye discharge and long nails, were confirmed by the veterinarians, Davies said.

The County Attorney’s Office was represented in Poynor by assistants Daniel Cox and Daniel Barnes, who led the investigation into the dog-hoarding case.

Cox said law officers and members of the SPCA were prepared to testify, had the hearing taken place.

“We anticipate that we would have prevailed in the hearing, but we are happy that Ms. Eckeberger agreed to waive the hearing, and give up the dogs”  Cox said.,

According to the County Attorney’s Office, Eckeberger was convicted of Animal Cruelty in October, after one of her dogs escaped from the home, and was discovered by a neighbor.

That dog had matted fur, and appeared malnourished, leading to both the criminal charges, and awareness of the hoarding situation amongst Henderson County law enforcement.

Eckeberger pled guilty, and was placed on probation for the Animal Cruelty conviction.

Placing Eckeberger on probation allowed the Henderson County Adult Probation Department access into her home, which facilitated the seizure on Dec. 17.

“The seizure of these dogs was the result of a collaborative effort on the part of the County Attorney’s Office, Probation Department, the Sheriff’s Department and the SPCA. Working together, we were able to remove these dogs from horrendous conditions,” Cox said.