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Monday, March 18 , 2019, 7:39 pm | Fair 59º


Animal Cruelty Charges Dropped Against Santa Barbara Woman

Sandra Coupal takes back 28 of 445 animals seized in a raid of her home last year

A Santa Barbara woman accused of animal cruelty has had her charges dismissed and has taken back some of her animals seized in a county raid last December.

Sandra Coupal was charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty and failing to provide proper care for the 445 animals on her West Camino Cielo property, including chickens, turkeys, pigeons, quail, rabbits, an alpaca, two cats and two dogs, Deputy District Attorney Kevin Weichbrod said in February.

Since the raid, the animals have been housed at the Santa Barbara Humane Society.

There had been many complaints from neighbors and concern over the animals’ living conditions to Santa Barbara County Animal Services, which conducted the search warrant and seizures in December, according to Director Jan Glick.

Technically, Coupal’s property is in a rural area with no limit on the animals. However, Weichbrod said, it becomes an issue when one person is taking care of 450 animals and animals aren’t getting proper food, water or shelter.

He said the number itself is staggering, but seeing all the animals in person at the Humane Society was amazing.

In a suppression motion, Coupal’s attorney, Robert Landheer, argued that the information leading to the search warrant was a violation of the Fourth Amendment, but a judge ruled that the warrant and seizure visit were justified. After that, talks began toward the agreement.

It’s formed more like a civil settlement than a misdemeanor one. With charges dismissed, Coupal had to relinquish all but 30 of her animals, never have more than 50 animals on her property, and allow Animal Services inspections every two months. She will also submit reports on any animal deaths, food receipts and monthly veterinarian care.

“The main concern was that this woman had too many animals,” Weichbrod said. “It’s not that she was intentionally harming these animals, she was just overwhelmed.”

Animal Control has been interacting with Coupal since 2007, trying to maintain her birds to a manageable number with 50 as the general limit.

“Our primary concern is to take care of the animals, see how we can stop it from happening again,” Weichbrod said, adding that with Coupal’s willingness to relinquish the animals and get the adoption process underway, she helped with that.

The agreement lasts two years, which can be shortened or lengthened depending on how well Coupal follows it.

The animals were considered evidence, and members of the public helped the county with food donations for the hundreds of birds.

Now that the case is resolved and Coupal took back 28 animals as part of the deal, the rest of the animals are up for adoption. There are still a lot of roosters, pigeons, turkeys and chickens available, and anyone interested should fill out an application at the shelter at 5473 Overpass Road in Goleta.

“We’re very pleased to be able to offer the animals for adoption, and one of the things that we are doing is just trying to ensure that we do the due diligence to the zoning,” Glick said, adding that there are staff members specializing in adoptions and matching the animals with people who live where the animals are allowed.

“We’re hoping to place them as soon as possible; we’ve had them almost six months,” Glick said. “We’ve had a busy time.”

Some of the animals died while being held at the Humane Society, which Glick said is to be expected with such a large flock and considering the initial health condition of some animals. She said a few were euthanized by consulting veterinarians because of contagious diseases or suffering, and many had issues and diseases that weren’t related to a level of care.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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