Kenai volunteer aids seized collies in Montana

Posted: Tuesday, January 21, 2003

KENAI (AP) -- Seized collies that have lived with feces-encrusted coats in Shelby, Mont., are finally getting groomed.

Professional groomers volunteering their services began arriving about a month ago from around the country to attend to the dogs confiscated from John Harman and Athena Lethcoe-Harman of Nikiski.

Until recently, the animals remained with their foul-smelling, matted coats at the Marias Valley Fairgrounds. Veterinarians were concerned that the stress of the hygiene procedures could further compromise the dogs' weakened health. Nearly all the dogs were diagnosed with giardia, coccidia, internal parasites and varying degrees of internal and external infections.

''It was just horrific,'' said volunteer Nancy Henricksen, a Kenai groomer, of the trailer the dogs were transported in. ''The conditions of the trailer were liken to pictures I've seen of concentration camps.''

Henricksen, proprietor of Groomingdales, traveled at her own expense to Montana. Henricksen collected donations from area businesses and her family. After supplying her resume and references and submitting to a background check, she was permitted to help those overseeing the dogs' care.

''They still looked rough,'' she said. ''Their personalities were like they were shell-shocked.''

She performed many grooming tasks on the canines, including shampooing coats and cleaning out ears and pads. Many of the dogs had coats so poor that hours of brushing were required to remove knots.

U.S. Customs agents at the border patrol station in Sweetgrass, Mont., in October arrested the Harmans and charged them with improperly transporting 166 collies, two spaniel mixes, two shelties, a Jack Russell terrier and 11 cats.

The dogs were suffering from severe dehydration and malnutrition. One was found dead.

The Harmans were charged with 182 counts of animal cruelty. A jury trial is set for Tuesday.

Since the arrest, Toole County Search and Rescue workers, sheriff deputies, veterinarians, humane society employees and volunteers have cared for the animals at sheep pens at the fairgrounds.

Even with the donated equipment and supplies, Toole County officials said, it is costing $35,000 a month to care for the animals.

The Harmans are free on bond. They have pleaded innocent.

In a recent story in The Great Falls Tribune, the couple said they provided food and water, cleaned and allowed the dogs to exercise during the drive.

Scott Albers, the couple's attorney in Great Falls, has stated if the Harmans lose in the courtroom this week, he will appeal their case.

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