08/14/09 — Thornton found guilty of cruelty

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Thornton found guilty of cruelty

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on August 14, 2009 1:51 PM

A former kennel owner was banned from breeding dogs after a judge found her guilty of 12 counts of cruelty to animals on Thursday evening.

Virginia Thornton, 66, the former owner of Thornton Kennel near the Wayne-Sampson county line, will serve three years of supervised probation, Judge Lonnie W. Carraway ordered.

Carraway also ordered a 90-day suspended Department of Correction sentence that would take effect if Mrs. Thornton violates the terms of her probation.

During the probation, the former breeder of small dogs cannot own dogs other than her two personal pets, Carraway ordered.

Mrs. Thornton will also pay a $2,000 fine plus court costs and serve 48 total hours of community service, to be served at the Wayne County Animal Adoption Center, if possible.

The former dog breeder's defense attorney, Billy Strickland, said that Mrs. Thornton currently has no plans to appeal the sentence.

The sentencing of Mrs. Thornton was filled with emotion, bringing tears to the eyes of the judge, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, and also the court clerk.

On Thursday, the former manager of the property, Joyce Tolar, testified about conditions at the site. She had worked there for about a decade, Ms. Tolar said.

Strickland asked Ms. Tolar how often the property was cleaned, and Ms. Tolar said that two employees cleaned them every day.

Ms. Tolar also testified that the dogs did get occasional exercise.

Assistant District Attorney Terry Yeh said that Ms. Tolar must have been mistaken about cleaning the cages every day. Mrs. Yeh argued that with Ms. Tolar's estimate of 20 minutes per cage, there simply were not enough minutes in the day to clean every cage.

Strickland argued that the medical problems suffered by the animals were not enough to constitute cruelty to animals.

Mrs. Thornton did not speak with reporters during the trial, saying only that she had no comment.

The kennel was raided in February and nearly 300 dogs seized, many showing signs of neglect.

In response to a civil lawsuit, Thornton agreed to turn over the animal to county authorities. The U.S. Humane Society's state branch divided the dogs amongst a number of communities across the state for adoption.

Legislation to curb such "puppy mills' was introduced in the state Senate by Sen. Don Davis of Greene County and is now being studied by a House committee.