RED LODGE - The owner of a Fromberg animal shelter billed as a refuge for animals at risk of euthanasia pleaded not guilty Monday to animal cruelty.
Kelly Sondeno, who owns Safe Harbor Rescue, appeared before District Judge Blair Jones. She is charged with a single count of felony aggravated cruelty to animals.
Sondeno told the judge she couldn't afford to pay an attorney because she has no job and asked for a public defender. Jones appointed Red Lodge attorney Steven Thuesen to represent her.
The judge told Sondeno she is not allowed to acquire additional animals while her case is pending, and released her on her own recognizance.
The charge stems from conditions observed at Sondeno's shelter during a January inspection by Carbon County sheriff's deputies, the county sanitarian, the Humane Society and three veterinarians.
The shelter was described as "chaotic," and there was "garbage and feces everywhere," court documents said. Dogs, cats and horses were being deprived of proper shelter and care, court records said.
An investigation began after neighbors complained last summer about noise and odors. An informal inspection in July found about 50 cats, 75 to 100 dogs and several horses at the shelter.
Six horses and four cats were removed from the shelter in January; the Humane Society will care for them until the court determines whether they should be returned to Sondeno. The rest of the animals remain at the shelter.
Sondeno has acknowledged that there are problems at her facility but said the shelter has been placed under unrealistic expectations.
The shelter's pens are cleaned regularly and only look shabby because they're old, she said. And animals at Safe Harbor that are sick were unhealthy when they arrived, Sondeno has said.