Voices of Love and Joy

A brief overview of a long story:

Kapsa Shady Lane Kennels in Ballantine, MT was raided December 30, 2008 by the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office. The seized animals (approximately 200 English shepherds, Pugs, and mixed breed dogs, a number of which were about to give birth, along with 3 cats and several birds) were taken into custody by Yellowstone County and sent to Metra Park arena (local fairgrounds) and Moore Lane Animal Hospital where they were cared for by volunteers while the case of animal cruelty against Linda Kapsa was played out (approximately 9 months).

On July 9, 2009, Kapsa pleaded no contest, and after a spay/neuter clinic the majority of dogs would soon be released for foster and adoption. ONLY on condition that the volunteers caring for the seized dogs receive first choice for adoption of the dogs for which they had been caring did Kapsa enter the plea deal. Judge Watters, the presiding judge, acknowledged and agreed with the condition.

National English Shepherd Rescue (NESR), a nonprofit organization based out of Ollala, WA, was selected by Yellowstone County to oversee the adoption/fostering of the dogs. NESR has had a long standing feud with Kapsa and worked with Yellowstone County for months prior to the raid.

During the 8 – 9 months in which the seized dogs were housed at the fairgrounds in horse barns, Penny Ronning volunteered more than 1,500 hours, spent more than $2,000 for the daily care needs of the dogs and was highly praised as one of the top dog handlers during her many months working with the dogs.

Each volunteer dog handler was assigned a stall of dogs to help socialize. Ronning began working with Love, Joy, and Happy the first week of January. Love, an English shepherd, was 10 years old at the time; Joy, an English shepherd, was 1- 2 years old at the time; and Happy, a black Labrador mix, is of undetermined age.

Night of July 4, 2009 Penny in stall with Happy, Joy, and Love.

Documentation shows the tremendous progress demonstrated by the dogs which were in Penny’s care. Love, Joy, and Happy were among the very first dogs to be leash trained. Joy was the first dog to master the agility course and the only dog that could run the course fully in one direction and immediately turn and run it in the opposite direction. Joy was even highlighted on the local news with Penny running her through the agility course.

However, not all at the fairgrounds was as it was presented in the press to the public. During the months the animals were in Yellowstone County’s custody close to 70 of the animals died horrific, brutal deaths. Abuse of the animals by volunteers closely associated with Yellowstone County officials and abuse of the animals by Yellowstone County employees occurred all too often.

Money being spent by the County as reported to the public was in serious question. Volunteers were paying into the thousands and thousands of dollars on the daily care needs of the dogs. Volunteers were supplying ALL labor for the daily care needs of the dogs and ALL labor in the construction of the facilities housing the dogs.

Volunteers that questioned any of these practices or that spoke up were fired and denied all access to the dogs and the County facility known as Metra Park.

Penny with Love

During the months in which the dogs were housed at the fairgrounds, Penny was noted as one of the most dedicated and hard working volunteers. Documentation proves the many, many hours she sacrificed and devoted to the well-being of the dogs. Photo, written, and video documentation as well as other volunteers’ affidavits reveal and prove the tremendous bond established between Penny and the dogs with which she lovingly cared for and worked with on a daily basis.

In May 2009, after witnessing a dedicated volunteer wrongfully and disgracefully “discharged” because she dared to question and to speak up, Penny began to question how both the dogs and volunteers were being treated by Yellowstone County.

In June 2009, Penny wrote a letter to the three Yellowstone County Commissioners requesting badly and desperately needed supplies.

In July 2009, Penny was asked by the defense to be a neutral party during Kapsa’s court ordered walk around in which Kapsa was to select 20 dogs that would potentially be ordered by the court to be returned to her. Penny was asked to be present to verify that, as best she knew, each stall of dogs at Metra Park contained the dogs that were supposed to be there. She was also asked to verify, as best she knew, which dogs volunteers wanted to adopt. Penny was asked to perform this task because she had been described by other volunteers as being honest, fair, and the one volunteer that had dogs in all four barns at Metra Park. She was described as being the volunteer with the most knowledge of all 4 barns.

Penny with Eddie

When the time came to “apply” with NESR to adopt the dogs Penny applied to adopt Love, Joy, Eddie, and Happy — 4 of the 8 dogs for which she had been the handler.

In June of 2009, Penny had emailed the president of NESR asking what the adoption process was going to be for the volunteers. In July, the president wrote Penny back stating that NESR had not yet determined a process and that NESR would not be discussing it with the volunteers.

Also in June 2009, the president of The English Shepherd Club and active member of NESR told Penny during a phone conversation that one of the dogs Penny had been working with and wanting to adopt had a long list of NESR members waiting to adopt and that Penny would have to “fight” for the adoption.

Toward the end of July 2009, the president of NESR and the adoption coordinator for NESR finally came to Montana to actually see the dogs for the VERY FIRST TIME and begin the adoption process. A dog trainer out of Pennsylvania with experience in search and rescue was deemed NESR’s professional animal behaviorist/expert and the person leading the evaluations on the dogs.

Unknown to Penny and performed when she was not present; Joy was the first of all seized dogs to be “evaluated” by NESR. According to volunteers witnessing the “evaluation” Joy performed beautifully. Also at this time, volunteers witnessed highly abusive treatment by the NESR professional animal “expert” and “evaluator” of Love, the 10 year old English shepherd.

Volunteers later witnessed Eddie being manhandled by one of NESR’s “expert evaluators”.

Penny walking Joy

The NESR “evaluation committee” deemed Penny’s group as “having made no progress since January” and denied her the adoption of all English shepherd dogs for which she applied. She was also not offered ANY English shepherd out of the entire 200+ English shepherds now needing homes. While Penny was brutally and cruelly being denied the adoption of Joy, the president of NESR told Penny that they were going to “give” her Happy, the black Labrador.

It should be noted that documentation reveals NESR’s disdain for Happy and Happy’s presence among the English shepherds. It was documented that this “animal expert” for NESR had stated that Happy should be in a stall by herself since as a Lab she will teach the young English shepherds bad behavior and she would drive Love, the older and highly intelligent English shepherd crazy.

Happy laying outside the stall she shared with Love and Joy

In the end, NESR denied Penny the adoption of Happy also. They chose an 81-year-old former volunteer to award Happy and then stated that Penny rejected Happy.

NESR also claimed that Penny’s adoption applications were appalling and that absolutely no animal rescue organization would give her an animal based upon her applications.

Penny has many years in rescuing and fostering dogs.

One of Penny’s co-handlers who also spoke out was also denied the adoption of a dog as was Penny’s mother who was also a volunteer.

Penny’s mother’s application was acknowledged by NESR and then completely ignored. Penny’s co-handler, Kelly Dennehy’s application was deemed by NESR as being turned in late even though at the time Kelly turned in her application the dogs had not yet been released by the court for adoption placement by NESR.

After repeated attempts and requests by Penny and Kelly and vast numbers of concerned citizens throughout Yellowstone County and the nation, NESR refused all discussion on the matter.

The truth is that both Penny and Kelly were denied as acts of retaliation on the part of Yellowstone County and NESR.

In 2009, because of NESR’s adamant refusal of discussion Penny and Kelly began legal action to adopt Love and Joy.

In 2009, volunteers filed suit against Yellowstone County also.


For the first time on my blog, I am sharing my own personal story.

For more information and to follow, please click here.


Bring Joel Home


written by Dr. Suzanne Fiala

Dr. Suzanne Fiala lives in Seattle. She is a beloved and popular family physician who began fostering for the local chapter of Dogs Deserve Better in October, 2010. Between October 2010 and March 2011 Dr. Fiala fostered 11 dogs for DDB, including 2 litters of puppies. All of the dogs were pitbulls or pitbull mixes. Dr. Fiala received accolades on the DDB FB page for her devotion and hard work.

The last dog she took in for foster was Joel, an adult pitbull male that weighed in at 27# and was too weak to stand. Joel was chained to a picnic table in someone’s yard for his short life, and with his sister Julie, fed a handful of food every 5 days.

When Joel was taken to the emergency vet he was 24-48 hours from death – emaciated, weak, his bowels and other organs were shutting down. DDB took possession of the dog and placed him with Dr. Fiala the next day, February 1. Joel was, by their admission, the most damaged dog they had ever had in their local program. The local DDB rep hoped Dr. Fiala could save Joel, if anyone could.

Dr. Fiala took Joel to her home. She warned her children he might not live through the night. That first night, Dr. Fiala and her children sat around Joel and laid hands on him, sending him love and positive energy, and whispering softly and kindly. Dr. Fiala dozed on the dog bed next to Joel, to offer him water, food, and to maintain constant human touch with him. She told him to please hold on, and to give her a chance to show him what love felt like. And miraculously Joel slowly came back to life. Dr. Fiala remained with Joel 24/7, carried him to and from her office in the daytime, fed him bits of roasted chicken, rice and organic vegetables every 2 hours until his gut started working again, and the vomiting and explosive diarrhea stopped. Over a month’s time Joel went from a living skeleton to a vibrant, beautiful boy. His emotional scars were deep, but those improved over time as he came to trust his new family, the first people who had ever been kind to him.

Through February and March, Joel and Dr. Fiala were inseparable, day and night. Dr. Fiala’s children and other dogs welcomed him, and life became a wonderful and happy routine. Dr. Fiala enrolled Joel with a trainer using only positive techniques, to advise and help her to socialize Joel to humans and animals alike.

Throughout March, however, things started feeling really wrong with DDB. The local rep did not reimburse Dr. Fiala for any of the money spent on Joel’s care, though that was the condition of fostering and the bill quickly rose to over $1000. Also, Dr. Fiala noticed that the DDB website was soliciting donations for costs for Joel’s care that she herself had paid for…so where was that money going? And perhaps most troubling, Dr. Fiala came to believe that Page, the local state rep, played God with dogs in need. The ones that got media attention got Page’s attention, and other cases of suffering dogs in need were pushed aside.

At the end of March, Dr. Fiala was so disillusioned she felt compelled to write a letter to DDB-National founder, Tamira Ci Thayne, expressing her concerns. Dr. Fiala also quietly decided she just wanted to formalize Joel’s adoption, and get out to do rescue work elsewhere with people of integrity.

April 2 – Dr. Fiala announced on her FB page that she was adopting Joel, to the pleasure of many local Joel fans.
April 4 – Page, the local DDB rep, posted on the DDB-WA FB page that Dr. Fiala was adopting Joel.
April 7 – Dr. Fiala sent her letter of concerns to Ms. Thayne in PENN.
April 7 – Dr. Fiala mails her signed adoption contract to DDB. The contract does NOT require a countersignature, and is the last, formal step in the adoption process. The contract is only offered AFTER DDB okays the adoption.
April 8 – Dr. Fiala is contacted by Marie Belanger, ‘regional rep’ based in Indiana and told she will investigate the concerns from the letter.
April 8-10 – a series of exchanges between Dr. Fiala and Ms. Belanger quickly show hostility and defensive posturing, and Dr. Fiala’s witnesses, who Ms. Belanger promises to contact, are never contacted.
April 14 – local Seattle DDB reps go to the doggie daycare near Dr. Fiala’s medical office where Joel was spending some time socializing, and take him.

They notify Dr. Fiala after the fact in a voice message, saying that Joel has been ‘repossessed’ because the contract is not valid, that it was a “National decision”, and that Joel has been rehomed with another foster family. The adoption contract has clearly been altered by someone other than Dr. Fiala, item #3 saying ‘the dog will not be chained’ has been crossed off. DDB’s claim is that Joel was taken because, after 6 months of devoted volunteering, after fostering 11 dogs, after the rep has been to Dr. Fiala’s house half a dozen times, they suddenly discovered Dr. Fiala was a dog-chainer and was not fit to keep Joel.

No one in the animal rescue network in Seattle has seen or heard from Joel again.


Click here to follow Suzanne’s and Joel’s story on Facebook.