Georgia animal rescue operator Donna Lee Caswell, was arrested on animal cruelty charges Saturday by Connecticut Animal Control officers.
Caswell, 64, was charged with 28 counts related to “illegal pet adoption operation,” according to the state Department of Agriculture, which contains the state’s Animal Control Division.
After receiving complaints from consumers that Caswell was placing sick animals into adoptions in Connecticut through her rescue business, “Nick of Time,” the state’s animal control unit conducted a sting operation with the help of the Madison Police Department.
“From the look of the crates, the animals were never let out of those crates the entire time up from Georgia so the dogs were lying in their own waste in these small crates,” says Animal Control Supervisor Raymond Connors.
Undercover officers met with Caswell in a commuter parking lot under the auspices of purchasing a dog, according to a state press release.
The Department of Agriculture seized a total of 10 cats and two dogs being transported in dirty enclosures, according to the state.
They say the cats showed symptoms of respiratory distress, and all of the animals were taken to an area veterinarian for examination.
The state says two cats were euthanized because of illness.
Connors says cases like this are “not that common.”
To lawfully operate in Connecticut, rescue groups need to be licensed with the state and make sure animals brought into the state see a vet within 48 hours of entrance to the state, says Connors.
The problem with Caswell’s operation in Connecticut, says Connors, was fivefold: that she was unlicensed, had no certificates of treatment for her animals, no veterinary exams in Connecticut, the animals were sick and they were not let out of the crates.
Caswell promotes her “Nick of Time” rescue on Facebook.
Fox CT News reached her by phone Monday night in Georgia.
She says the state’s sting operation was overbearing and designed to make an example out of her.
Caswell says she has received death threats since the state made her arrest public.
Caswell: “They could have sent a letter, at which point I would have called them and said, ‘What’s up guys?’ ”
Beau Berman: “So if they would have warned you, you would have heeded that warning?”
Caswell: “Yes I would have.”
Caswell was arrested in a parking lot off Interstate 95 in Madison.
Connors says this wasn’t the first time she had been warned about illegal adoption operations. He said that last January she was banned from Massachusetts under similar circumstances.
“She knows what’s right and what’s wrong,” says Connors.
But Caswell says she didn’t know the law, however, does admit that she should have.
“We rescue a lot of animals, kid. Let me tell you. There are animal controls down here that love me,” said Caswell by phone.
Caswell is back in Georgia but due in New Haven Superior Court on Feb. 4.
Meanwhile, her animals were all seized and will be put up for adoption when ready, according to the state.
They are currently housed at the Madison Animal Shelter.
“It’s a very silver lining that they’re going to find good homes, and they’re going to be healthy,” says Connors.
Caswell says she was released from custody under the condition that she sign away her animals to the state, something she did. But she claims that she was not aware of any animal cruelty charges and that she wasn’t told two of the cats would be euthanized.
Her adoption coordinator in Maryland was reached by phone Monday, and says that Caswell goes into shelters and saves the cats and dogs that other rescues leave behind.
Caswell says Georgia is a “kill state” and that animals often need to be taken north to find good homes.
While she questions the necessity of her arrest as opposed to a warning, she says the state animal control officers were “gentlemen.”
Caswell was charged with a total of 28 counts and does face jail time.
To look up which rescues have animal importer licenses with the state, click here to visit the State of Connecticut’s licensing website.