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Animal rescue director takes plea deal in dog warehouse case; former members outraged

Whitney Ransom, director of Southern Paws Transport, took a plea deal in court Thursday in reference to 13 dogs left in reportedly deplorable conditions inside a North Little Rock warehouse. (Photo: KATV)

The director of a local dog rescue group took a plea deal on Thursday after facing nearly a dozen animal code violations stemming from a North Little Rock warehouse rescue dogs were being stored in.

Whitney Ransom, director of Southern Paws Transport, agreed to pay $1,200 in court fees and dog boarding fines in addition to being put on probation for a year related to animal code offenses in North Little Rock.

Ransom was originally charged with seven counts of housing a banned breed, one charge of not having a permit for an animal establishment, one charge for housing animals in poor conditions, and because there was no permit to house the number of animals that were being housed, Ransom was also charged with surpassing the city’s limit of four dogs per household.

Ransom hugged Southern Paws board members after finding out her fate. After court, Ransom nor any Southern Paws board members at Thursday’s hearing would speak on camera, instead electing Michelle Ketzscher, a rescue group volunteer to act as a spokesperson.

“The Southern Paws has reorganized themselves,” said Ketzscher. “They now have rules to avoid anything like this from happening again.”

Despite a guilty plea in court, Ketzscher said Ransom remains the rescue group’s director, but added that many of the director’s former duties have been shifted to multi-member committees.

Nearly a half dozen former Southern Paws volunteers attended Ransom’s hearing on Thursday – all outraged by what they call a “weak” plea deal from the judge – worried that Ransom will continue to operate the rescue group without actual regard for rescuing the animals.

No former Southern Paws volunteer in court Thursday was more upset than Leigh Hayes, who had fostered dogs for SPT. Hayes remains traumatized after one of the dogs she was given to foster became sick in her care and later died. Hayes made her opinion very clear during an outburst in the courthouse hallway after Ransom was sentenced.

“Don’t tell me Southern Paws is doing everything they can, that’s bull@#$%,” exclaimed Hayes. “I’m talking about this dog – Roxy. She was not vetted.”

Hayes got heated with Mary Traylor, a Southern Paws Transport board member, who she asked to provide paperwork for Roxy to prove the dog was taken care of.

Traylor provided KATV with Roxy’s veterinarian records, but the documentation received by Channel 7 only showed emergency care the dog received after becoming sick. The records showed no preventative care like a rabies vaccine or heartworm medication being received by Roxy.

Karen Kelley, director of Cynder Creek Animal Rescue, was court-appointed back in September to take in the 13 dogs rescued from Southern Paws by North Little Rock Animal Control. When asked to describe the condition the dogs arrived to her in, in one word, Kelley said, “horrific.”

“They all had coccidia, they all had worms,” said Kelley.

In addition to all 13 dogs having parasites, most came to Kelley underweight and nearly half the dogs had heartworm. Initially an outsider to the situation, Kelley believes Ransom received a slap on the wrist in court on Thursday and is worried for future dogs that will come into the rescue group’s care.

“Southern Paws started out as a wonderful rescue and I think they still have some wonderful people that would like to help – I just don’t think that the path that they’re on right now,” lamented Kelley.

Out of the 13 dogs Kelley rescued from Southern Paws Transport, she has been able to adopt all but three dogs – one with extreme behavior problems and two Rottweilers.

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