BOWLING GREEN - Clayton “Tom” Sheperd yesterday stood at the center of a tearful, emotional reunion with 23 of his husky sled dogs he hadn t seen in seven months.
As Mr. Sheperd excitedly called out his dogs names and welcomed them back into his arms, those who ve cared for his animals sadly watched the reunion.
Mr. Sheperd, 62, was found not guilty Monday in Bowling Green Municipal Court on charges that he treated his dogs inhumanely. Yesterday, members of the Wood County Humane Society complied with a judge s order to return the animals, which had been living at the shelter and in foster homes since they were seized April 10.
Seven remaining huskies, all puppies in the care of the Alaskan Rescue Coalition in Michigan, were not returned as ordered and are expected to be the focus of court battles.
Mr. Sheperd said he was happy to finally have most of his dogs back, though he said most have been ruined for racing. He said several friends and fellow racers will be helping him with the animals.
“Not all is lost, and I feel really good about getting these dogs back and my life back,” said Mr. Sheperd, formerly of Haskins, Ohio. “As you can see, they re a bunch of beautiful dogs.”
Even after the long separation, Mr. Sheperd said he recognized his animals when he first saw each one.
Authorities confiscated Mr. Sheperd s 14 dogs, including three pregnant females, and a homemade trailer after a citizen saw it parked outside Woodland Mall in April.
Karen Stanish, who saw the dogs that afternoon, called the humane society to report the dogs did not have water or food and some seemed lethargic.
Mr. Sheperd still faces misdemeanor charges of inducing panic, obstructing official business, and resisting arrest. A pretrial hearing is set for tomorrow.
The animals were loaded into a truck that had the name Gee-Paks Sled Dog Team on the side. Others were placed inside plastic barrels on a newly constructed trailer behind Mr. Sheperd s Jeep Wrangler.
A previous trailer had been the subject of Mr. Sheperd s recent trial, as prosecutors alleged it was an inhumane way of transporting the animals. The dogs were kept in the plastic barrels for living and sleeping and were attached on short chains to the vehicle. The new trailer has a similar setup.
Mr. Sheperd, who lives primarily in his vehicle as he travels the country, said he was heading today to Baldwin, Mich., where he was expected to undergo surgery. The dogs will be tested there for their future capabilities, he said.
He didn t rule out the possibility of giving some of the dogs to foster families who watched them recently.
Valerie Fine of Perrysburg, who fostered Mr. Sheperd s dog, Omni, was thrilled with that news, as were other foster families present yesterday.
Ms. Fine stopped Mr. Sheperd to hand him photos of Omni that were taken while in her care. She asked Mr. Sheperd if there was any way he would consider giving - or selling - Omni to her. She said Omni had a perfect temperament and got along beautifully with her two other dogs.
Mr. Sheperd agreed to call her and he gave her his cell phone number. He later said he understood how she and the other foster providers - many in tears as the dogs left - felt about his animals.
“To know them is to love them,” he said. “If they re around them long, they want the dogs.”
Renee Valtin, the humane society s shelter manager, said she could not comment on the matter. She referred questions to a society spokesman who did not return a phone message.
The humane society did not include the dogs medical records in the exchange, which angered Mr. Sheperd.
Ms. Valtin and other shelter workers were visibly shaken as they transported the animals from the shelter. A “closed” sign was hung in a window after all the animals had been returned.