April 20l, 2016
By Jamie Satterfield of the Knoxville News Sentinel
A Knox County poodle breeder wrongfully accused of animal abuse and forced to shell out $1,700 to get her seized animals back is suing.
Sara Tinker has filed a civil-rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Knox County and Knox County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control Officer Frankie Byrne over a March 2015 raid of her Marshy Swamp Point home.
PDF: Knox County poodle breeder’s lawsuit Acting on neighborhood complaints, Byrne obtained a search warrant for Tinker’s home last year and seized 31 dogs, including a Havanese, a cockapoo and 29 poodles. Tinker was charged with animal cruelty and her home condemned. Tinker breeds and sells standard poodles via a website.
Less than a month later, Knox County prosecutors dropped the charges after a veterinarian certified the animals were in good health and properly housed, according to the lawsuit and confirmed by state court records.
But according to attorney Van R. Irion, the damage to Tinker’s reputation and economic status could not be repaired.
“Local television news media ran stories describing (Tinker’s) business using the derogatory term ‘puppy mill,'” Irion wrote in the lawsuit. “An anonymous neighbor of (Tinker’s) posted a sign in front of (her) house also accusing (her) of running a ‘puppy mill’ and accusing (her) of cruelty to animals. Because of the allegations against (Tinker), her employer terminated her employment.”
After the charges were dropped, Tinker sought the return of her dogs, but the Young-Williams Animal Shelter demanded $3,500 for housing the animals, the lawsuit alleged.
“When (Tinker) told the animal shelter agents that she had not been convicted of any wrongdoing and that she shouldn’t have to pay thousands of dollars to get her own dogs back, she was informed that if she did not pay this amount, her dogs would either be permanently adopted out to unknown third parties or killed by shelter employees.”
Young-Williams, which is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, routinely euthanizes unwanted animals, according to its website.
Tinker took to the Internet to raise money and eventually negotiated to pay a fee of $1,700 for the return of the seized dogs, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit accuses Byrne of failing to follow a county ordinance that requires a 30-day written notice and an opportunity to address any concerns about a homeowner’s animal housing before action, including the seizure of animals, can be taken.
The ordinance at issue in Tinker’s case “includes an exception allowing more than the allotted number of dogs on a property if all dogs and/or cats have been vaccinated and inoculated against disease as recommended by a veterinarian,” the lawsuit stated.
Tinker’s veterinarian, Dr. Patrick Hackett, already had provided Tinker with a letter attesting to the proper vaccination and care of her animals before Byrne raided her home, the lawsuit stated.
KCSO spokesman Martha Dooley declined to comment, as did the Knox County Law Department.