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Former animal shelter operators arrested; City progresses with new control

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The Ellis County Press

FERRIS - James "Soaring Eagle" Vonda, was one of four arrested on animal cruelty charges.

Vonda, former Ferris animal shelter operator, Melinda Pappa, 45, Yolanda Duke, 46, and Cody Sims, 22, were arrested at their home on the 800 block of Flanagan Road in Leonard on animal cruelty charges, Friday, May 21.

"When we [Alex Fender] and I arrived at the property we were both in awe, "stated Scott Johnson, a former Marine, in an email sent to The Ellis County Press.

"The first thing we noticed were three large 10-man camping tents set up in the front yard.  The next thing that stuck out was the amount of animals that were on the property, mainly dogs.  Some dogs were tied to trees with no water or food. "

"Most look very unhealthy, with ribs showing, and one was even walking around with a broken leg.  There were several kennels with dogs crammed in them like sardines. "

Johnson went with his friend Fender to sell a trailer Vonda needed to transport a horse to New Mexico.

Vonda, 54, president of the non-profit Safe Harbor Foundation, lost his contract to run the Ferris Animal Shelter because of overcrowding and deplorable living conditions for the animals during the Monday, April 5 council meeting.

Fender said he called off the business transaction completely and notified everyone he could to get the animals some help.

"We are both former Marines and have seen some of the most awful conditions in this world.  I will tell you that this has to rate at the worst I have ever seen," said Fender.

Many animal rights activists had been wondering of the whereabouts of the group and the mainly the animals overnight disappearance from Ferris.

"It reaffirms that we did the right thing in terminating the agreement as soon as we were alerted to possible problems," said City Manager Eric Strong.

"The whole situation in unfortunate, and if found guilty, I hope they are punished to the fullest extent of the law."

Today, the Ferris Animal Shelter is mainly being handled by Chief Building Inspector Tim Rawlings and the smell and sight of the shelter are what you would expect.

"I am currently working with the Dallas SPCA [ Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] so we can work out an agreement to take the animals up there after they have been here for awhile to prevent having to put any animals down," said Rawlings.

Since the old contract was terminated, the city has only had six dogs at the shelter and no adoptions. But, the city hasn’t had to put down any animals either.

Adoptions are $40 a pet and you are required to spay/neuter the animal and get its rabies shot soon after adoption.

"Right now I have a real shy German Sheppard female who I am working with, but I would love to get her over to a specialist in Dallas who has time to work with her more so that’s something I am working on," said Rawlings.

Vonda’s hearing is set for Friday, May 28 at 10 a.m. located at the Fannin County Justice of the Peace, Pct. 2 Courthouse and faces up to one year in jail.

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