Lawyer says couple innocent of animal cruelty innocent

Posted: Friday, November 15, 2002

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) -- The lawyer for an Alaska couple says they will plead innocent to charges of misdemeanor cruelty for crowding 170 dogs and 11 cats into a tractor-trailer without food or water for a week.

Johnathan Harman, 49, and Athena Lethcoe-Harman, 40, plan to appear in person at a Dec. 2 hearing in Shelby, their attorney, Scott Albers of Great Falls, said Thursday.

The Harmans were moving from Nikiski to Arizona when they were arrested Nov. 1 at the Montana border.

The two are charged with 182 counts of misdemeanor cruelty to animals. Albers said they will request a jury trial.

The Harmans face fines of up to $500 on each charge, six months in jail or both. They may also be required for forfeit their animals to Toole County and may be required to pay costs incurred in providing treatment for the animals.

The animals are housed at the county fairgrounds and officials say the cost of caring for the dogs could run $35,000 a month, including the salaries of animal control officers and other full-time workers.

Albers said Athena Harman has a reputation for running one of the few collie kennels that breeds ''specifically for the health of the dogs.''

''It seems anomalous that a woman who is so obsessed with the health and welfare of the dogs of her kennel would do anything to detract or be detrimental to their health in a deliberate or knowing way,'' Albers said.

However, the Harman's Nikiski neighbors said the couple's kennel was loud and smelled and dogs frequently got loose, roaming the neighborhood. The Harmans had received a written warning about the condition of their dogs a week before their arrest while their tractor trailer rig was parked at an Anchorage store, according to Anchorage Animal Control.

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