Franklin County animal lovers have bombarded local authorities and animal control officers with complaints about chained dogs and horses with their ribs sticking out at 3387 St. Johns Road.
The horses, chickens, llamas and about a dozen pit bulls belong to Sandra and William Coy, who have a long history of animal cruelty charges.
Officials, however, say there’s nothing illegal about how the Coys are caring for their animals today.
“We may not like what we see, but just because we don’t like it doesn’t mean we can act,” Sheriff Pat Melton told The State Journal Thursday, shortly after visiting the site.
“That’s the thing – we got to follow the laws that are on the books … the way they are written today, it’s not at the point that it’s criminal.”
Melton and his deputies, along with animal control officers and County Attorney Rick Sparks, have received several emails and calls relating to the St. Johns Road property.
Deputies have made a few visits to the Coys’ home since January and determined there wasn’t anything wrong, according to the Sheriff’s Office call logs.
Melton made that same assessment Thursday after he, animal control officer Todd Moore, Franklin County Humane Society Director Angie Stewart and a state livestock investigator toured the property.
They found food and water bowls for the animals, and there was no evidence the pit bulls had been used in dogfights, as callers have suggested. And while the horses looked skinny, they weren’t too thin. The livestock investigator said they were healthy by Kentucky standards.
While Stewart said it wasn’t as bad as she expected, she still didn’t approve of the way the animals were living.
“They’re not good conditions – I don’t know anybody who would let their dogs live that way,” she told The State Journal Thursday night. “I’ve been really concerned about the horses … I know what a normal horse looks like.”
Stewart said she and other Humane Society staff members have lost sleep thinking about the animals, and she said she choked up a few times Thursday after coming across a few aggressive pit bulls.
The animals were enough to make Melton uneasy as well.
He said the Sheriff’s Office is compiling information on the Coys and their animals, which he’ll give to Sparks to determine if there’s enough evidence for charges to be filed.
In early 2009, the couple was charged with 11 counts of animal cruelty in the second degree, and Sandra Coy faced 19 counts of not vaccinating her dogs against rabies, after officials raided the couple’s home in December 2008 and seized 11 pit bulls.
According to court documents, animal control officers found 60 dogs at the Coys’ home, and many were malnourished and in poor condition. After being removed, three of the 11 dogs eventually died.
A jury later found Sandra Coy guilty of one count each of second-degree animal cruelty and failing to vaccinate dogs against rabies. She paid $350 in fines plus $184 in court costs.
William Coy, 45, was charged with the same offenses but was found not guilty by the jury.
Before coming to Franklin County, the Coys faced similar charges in LaRue County. According to the Hardin County News-Enterprise, they were forced to leave the county in August 2007 after authorities seized more than 40 dogs and puppies from their home. Eleven of those dogs later died.
The Coys accepted a plea agreement with prosecutors there and promised to leave the county, according to the News-Enterprise.
The Coys were also reportedly convicted of harboring a vicious animal in 2003 and five counts of allowing dogs to run loose in 2006 in LaRue County.
The State Journal was unable to reach the Coys for comment Thursday. A phone number listed for them has been disconnected.
For now, Melton says there’s not much he can do for these animals, since Kentucky law makes it hard to prove animal cruelty.
The Animal Defense Legal Fund consistently ranks Kentucky as having the nation’s worst animal protection laws.
In its 2011 report, the ADLF said Kentucky scored last for a number of reasons, including a lack of a forfeiture law for those charged with animal cruelty; the fact that veterinarians in Kentucky are prohibited from reporting suspected animal abuse cases and not having felony provisions for extreme neglect or abandonment of animals.
“Is it right? It may not be,” Melton said of the Coys’ treatment of their animals. “But it’s not criminal, and that’s where Kentucky has got to work to strengthen their animal laws.
“… There’s not a whole lot we can do except monitor the situation, and we are going to continue to do that. But in order to provide us the tools to do our jobs, we need some better laws to protect our animals.”
“I think what needs to happen now is all those people that rallied together to try and help these animals need to rally together to try to change the laws,” she said.
“Because if the laws were different, we could have done something today.”