Dogs in Grand Rapids neglect case deserve a better life

Many of the dogs in Kimberly Savino's care were kept in small crates normally used for transport purposes.

Many of the dogs in Kimberly Savino’s care were kept in small crates normally used for transport purposes.

It is likely I’ll lose some Facebook friends over this blog post. I can’t be too concerned about that. Many of my friends on Facebook are mere acquaintances, people I’ve never met. Others already were my friends long before Facebook, or have become true friends the past several years. Those friends are the people with whom I surround myself.

Kimberly Savino, one of my friends on Facebook, falls into the “acquaintance” category. She is among a group of hundreds of Corgi owners to which I belong. Like many “friends” on Facebook, I have never spoken with her, never met her. I hadn’t seen her in person until Tuesday.

That’s when I sat in the courtroom in Grand Rapids listening to testimony at the hearing to determine whether dogs owned by Savino would have to be forfeited to Kent County. Savino has been criminally charged with neglect in a case involving 39 dogs seized from her home (or, more precisely, Sue and Ryen Strotheide’s home) by Kent County Animal Control. Kent County was seeking to have the dogs forfeited to them.

Savino, the defendant, wants the dogs returned to her. Savino testified she has, for many years, rescued dogs she said “other people didn’t want to deal with,” including those with special needs and medical issues. She moved to Grand Rapids from Massachusetts into the Strotheide home, in part because the city has no limit on the number of dogs allowed in a residence. She moved to their home in May 2013 as a temporary move. In June 2013, she said, she moved her permanently, but said the housing situation was temporary.

Yet the “temporary” arrangement had not changed by June 27, 2014, when animal control seized the dogs (including two dogs belonging to the Strotheides). Photos entered into evidence showed dog crates, the smaller plastic type in which animals are usually transported, stacked on top of one another in a room in the house. More dogs were in another room, also in crates. Yet more dogs were kept in the basement.

Animal control officer Joe Dainelis, who led the seizure, said many of the dogs could not turn around or stand up properly in their too-small crates. The house smelled of urine and feces and many of the crates (and dogs) also contained urine and feces, he said. Dainelis had visited the residence on previous occasions and had not filed any complaints, he testified.

Savino didn’t bring all her rescue dogs from Massachusetts at once. Some were rescued here in Michigan, from a Barry County shelter a few months ago. Savino’s own veterinarian who testified Tuesday said she saw only 10 dogs on an occasion in November 2013 and two more in December. The vet said she wasn’t aware Savino had 39 dogs until the news story came out and she was called to testify.

Kent County Animal Shelter veterinarian Laurie Wright was called to the stand and detailed the condition of each dog as they arrived at the shelter on June 27. She went through 37 dogs (the two dogs owned by the Strotheides are not included in this forfeiture), by name, and described their breed (or mix), sex, age (or approximate) and then condition. A video shown prior to her testimony showed the dogs upon intake and supported her testimony.

The majority of dogs were underweight and had dental diseases, overgrown toenails, ear infections and skin disorders. One tested positive for heartworm. Several had chronic eye problems. Most of the issues, Wright said, were to such a degree that the problems would have been easily recognized and are treatable.

Wright explained the dental health issues are rated on a grading scale of 1 to 4, with 1 being healthy and 4 on the other end of the spectrum. Of the 37 dogs presented (the Strotheide’s dogs were not included) into evidence, 11 had Grade 2 dental disease, 10 had Grade 3 and 10 had Grade 4. Five puppies were not included, nor was a Great Pyrenees who would not tolerate an oral exam because of pain and nervousness, Wright said.

Some dogs were missing teeth, including one with no teeth except the lower molars and another with exposed tooth roots and bone. Aside from the dental issues, Wright noted many of the dogs had feces matted in their coats (including one who needed a sanitary-area shaving in order to eliminate normally), urine soaked and stained feet, discharge from the eyes, and debris and hair in the ears, some of which were inflamed. A few had heart murmurs.

Savino testified the dogs were in fine condition before she and Sue Strotheide left for a trip to Massachusetts in late May. They were gone five days; Ryen Strotheide was in charge of the dogs. Savino said she found the dogs in distress and having seizures upon her return. They had not been fed or watered properly, she said. A door to the “dog room” was to be left open to allow for proper ventilation. Ryen had closed the door and opened blinds, causing overheating, Savino testified. Two dogs died within a couple of days of her return, despite her efforts to save them by rushing them to the emergency vet and performing CPR.

Shortly after the incident, and after he was served with divorce papers, Ryen Strotheide filed a neglect complaint against Savino. When asked why he hadn’t filed a complaint earlier, Ryen Strotheide said, “I thought things would get better. I thought we would develop a system. We were promised help and it never materialized.”

Wright said the condition of the dogs she witnessed was not a result of four or five days of neglect by Ryen Strotheide, but neglect that had built up over time. Judge James Robert Redford, in his ruling, agreed.

“I find the defendant’s testimony incredible,” Redford said. He said Savino’s claim that the conditions resulted from four days of neglect by Ryen Strotheide “is illogical and unsupported.”

“The defendant failed to provide adequate care and the manner in which the defendant chose to warehouse these animals (in transport crates) was completely inappropriate,” Redford said.

He offered two photos admitted into evidence, of the same room inside the home. One, admitted by the defense, showed the room in “perfect” condition, with a minimal number of crates, fresh paint, clean.

“I don’t know when exhibit G was taken,” Redford said, regarding the photo admitted by the defense. “But exhibit 7 (the peoples’ photo) was 24 days after Ryen (Strotheide’s) complaint and it is absolutely disgusting, the filth these animals were required to live in. “Thankfully, the dogs were taken out of the home.”

Redford ruled the county acted appropriately in seizing the dogs from the home. Savino was ordered to pay $106,430 by 4:45 p.m. Friday or forfeit the dogs. If she pays, the dogs will remain in the Kent County Animal Shelter until Nov. 30, at which point Savino’s criminal trial should be finished (a probable cause hearing is Aug. 28 in Grand Rapids District Court).

If she does not pay, the dogs will be turned over the animal shelter and eventually made available for adoption. It is likely west Michigan rescue organizations such as the Humane Society of West Michigan will offer assistance, as has been the case in the past with animals seized in puppy mill or hoarding cases.

After hearing testimony and watching the intake video, I couldn’t agree more with Judge Redford. These dogs deserve individual attention and love, not the kind of attention (or time) one person can give to 39 dogs under one roof. They need medical attention. They need to be free to run in their own yard, sleep in their own bed, eat outside their crates and drink water whenever they want.

They need to be dogs.

If Kimberly Savino truly loves these dogs, as she says, she will give them their freedom and not fight to keep them in the shelter until after her criminal trial for neglect.

It has been my experience that they will get that chance to be dogs once they are made available for adoption. West Michigan animal lovers certainly will line up with applications, ready to give the dogs the happy and loving homes they deserve.

11 thoughts on “Dogs in Grand Rapids neglect case deserve a better life

  1. Hi Mary-
    Jackie Sirianni here. Thank you so much for writing about these poor creatures. This woman lives on my street – about four houses down on the other side.I walk my Dog, Bacon, past this house almost every day now (instead of taking our usual route). I drive past this house at least 4 to 6 times and day, and I have to say that I have NEVER seen a dog outside of that home! EVER! There is a small fenced back yard (yes, I snooped around!) that you cannot see over. I sincerely do not understand how she could take care of 39 dogs! It’s crazy – and apparently, so is she. I’ve seen her come and go, and she’s very nervous – craning her head all over the place to see who is watching her. Well I AM! When I first found out how many dogs were living there, I emailed Mayor Heartwell immediately! There really needs to be some kind of ordinance, but it’s a slippery slope. I have friends that have four or five Dogs that are wonderful pet owners. Thank you for having a voice for these poor babies. If there is any way I can help – just let me know. These dogs CANNOT go back into those conditions.

  2. You are so correct. The last thing I would worry about is losing FB friends. I work part time at a vet’s office, we have a small rescue program. I love being part of it. It’s great when you see a dog/cat find the perfect home! I fall in love with all of them and would take them all home if I could. I have 5 rescues. I hope to someday be able to take in more. Your article was great to read!! Thanks

  3. I was at the house shortly before the dogs were taken. The smell hit you before the door was even open and then was overpowering once it was. In the 3 or 4 hours I was at the home, I did not see any care given to the animals and not one was even taken out of its crate .

  4. It is a truly upsetting situation and i thank Mary for writing this to help clear up some unknown facts ,,,,still more im sure !!
    This is a disease of a woman with a kind heart and not enough since to understand that she is doing more harm than good ,,,my prayers are with these dogs and for her to get the help and education she needs to care for dogs in the right manner ,,,,i pray all these dogs find a forever home and sleep warm at night in the arms of a loving understanding owner ,,,

  5. thank you for writing such a thoughtful article ! there is a lesson in here for all of us who love dogs and would rescue every single one. there is a limit to what each of us can do. we need to look at our ability to give a good home to each and every one that enters our door and not compare ourselves with others who have different circumstances. the hardest part is admitting that others can give good homes and care as well in their own way. this whole thing breaks my heart for all concerned, human and canine. knowing the dogs will now have a chance at a better life and that Ms Savino is now relieved of a situation that must have eaten at her heart and mind, knowing in the depth of her heart that she was not giving them an optimum home.

  6. For anybody who has rescued one of these poor puppies, I will give you a 25% discount off grooming by mentioning this post. (Look up: Kimmys Pampered Paws for contact info; Muskegon MI)

  7. There is one piece of information in this story that needs to be corrected. Savino claims Ryan Strotheide made his complaint to the county in retaliation for his wife filing for divorce. Sue Strotheide filed for divorce AFTER the county removed the animals from the home. Savino was pressuring her to initiate the divorce, in part, as a means to keep Ryan from being able to pursue his eviction proceedings against Savino. [With ownership of the home up in the air in a divorce proceeding, his stake and rights, as co-owner of the home would be in limbo until after the divorce case was heard.] After increasingly bizarre and aggressive behavior on Savino’s part forced Sue to flee the home with a police escort and both husband and wife were on the same page in the eviction process, Savino managed to elude the process server who was attempting to serve her with a notice and summons in the eviction case. Judge Redford himself finally ordered her to be out of the home by Sept 8th and she finally complied. He also instituted a no contact order, prohibiting Savino from contacting, following or otherwise putting herself in the presence of the couple until after the trial after Savino pursued the wife trying to force contact and apply pressure to bring her back into Savino’s ‘camp’. The no contact order was instigated by Savino’s own attorney in an attempt to protect his client from herself ! Witness tampering is taken very seriously.

    DogsUnleashed has done a commendable and far more thorough job of reporting the facts in this story than any other media. Others have blindly repeated Savino’s lies, like her claiming to be a rescue and claiming to be the niece of the Ryans. But this particular issue of the timing of Ryan Strotheide’s complaint is particularly irritating. He may have been way too patient, but in my humble opinion, Savino appears to be a pathological case, accomplished in manipulating people, using lies and distortions to implement carefully made plans to accomplish her goals without regard for the collateral damage to the people and animals around her. She found a vulnerable subject and executed a plan to make a new life for herself in Grand Rapids. We may never know why she felt she had to leave a rather luxurious setting behind in Middleboro, MA, but there is probably something compelling in that history.

    All we can do now, to protect other vulnerable people and helpless animals, is to advocate for a period of court supervision that extends as long as possible and mandates professional mental health services and prohibits the ownership of any more animals. The judge is limited by the law as to how long he can keep her on probation and his ability to mandate anything past the end of court supervision is non existent. Letters to Judge Redford thanking him for his wise use of the pre conviction forfeiture law [which many Michigan judges and prosecutors shy away from] and encouraging him to use his maximum options in sentencing are perfectly appropriate and would be a good idea.

    We need, the animals need, more judges and prosecutors who will use the pre conviction forfeiture law to keep animal victims from being further punished by lengthy stays in animal control shelters while cases wind through the court system. And when a shelter is full of court case dogs, many strays and most all owner surrenders are euthanized as fast as possible to make room for the regular strays that come in daily.

  8. there is another thing that we all can do. we can share this issue and outcome with any rescue groups, animal advocates, shelters, friends. the more we use social media for this, the smaller her world becomes when it comes to “collecting” animals to “save them”. eventually, this may pave the way for the help so needed for her. the sharing may also help others to recognize the tendencies in themselves and prevent more hoarding situations or alert others to hoarding situations among their friends and families.
    Thanks to Judge Redford for being honest and caring about all involved.

  9. Very true. Two of Savino’s dogs were transported to her by Pilots n Paws. These transport groups who do no screening on people requesting their help make it possible for people like Savino to collect dogs from all over the country. That in turn makes it hard to see patterns developing and spot hoarders.. Responsible coordinators of ground transports have long insisted on rescues undergoing a screening process, but there’s another kind of coordinator who helps anyone who asks. The public shelters & most private shelters do not adequately screen adopters, much less rescues. Websites like churn out directories of ‘rescues’ with no real screening. They issue them an “ID Number” which enhances their false credibility. I tracked a horrible rescue last winter who used that to “prove” she was a “registered” rescue. It fooled a fair number of people who gave her dogs, gave her money and helped her haul out of state dogs up to Mecosta. We’ll never know what happened to most of them. We found the one we were looking for sitting in a shelter in the next county. The scrutiny slowed her down briefly, then she re-invented herself with a new name , Mid Michigan Bully Breed Rescue, or MMBBR, [Not to be confused with the reputable Mid Michigan Boxer Rescue or MMBR] ] and is off and running again. That Mecosta woman has no 501c3, even that doesn’t stop shelters & their volunteers from sending her dogs. Not that a 501c3 is ANY proof of anything other than someone filed papers and paid a fee and the IRS gave them a piece of paper. Hoarders, collectors, bad rescues and others like Savino thrive through the anonymity of the internet and the blind but unwarranted faith that some people have in anyone who claims to want to “help” animals.
    The shelters, realistically, don’t have the time, the staff or the networking connections to do a good job of screening allegeds rescues who want their dogs. Their volunteers, even when warned, are too eager to move as many animals out as possible to be realistic about what kind of life they’re sentencing these dogs to. All that matters is they leave the shelter alive. That leaves the dog-loving public and transport volunteers who pour their time and money into transporting, sharing, and sponsoring these animals, to insist that rescues and individuals getting dogs from shelters are screened, local shelter & vet references are checked and significant questions are answered appropriately before animals are delivered to those wanting them. Exposing abusers and frauds helps protect the next animals. Insisting that ‘receivers’ are screened properly, before driving in transport or donating to a rescue helps prevent abusers from getting the animals in the first place.

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