Tiny lives in the balance

Ben Godar

A Burbank rescue group and Los Angeles County Animal Control

officials reached an agreement for the group to take custody of 174

Chihuahuas seized from an Acton breeder, but a last-minute protest


from the breeder has postponed a decision on the dogs’ fate.

Animal control officers took the tiny canines from Emma Harter’s

home in November, where they have said the inbred dogs were moving in

ferocious, feral packs. An animal control expert who examined the


dogs in April said most should be destroyed, prompting an effort by

Burbank-based Chihuahua Rescue to save the dogs.

After three more animal behaviorists evaluated the dogs along with

officials from Chihuahua Rescue, shelter officials and Harter agreed

to allow the group to place the dogs in the care of experienced

rescue personnel, Deputy Dist. Atty. Steven Heller said.

But at a hearing in a Lancaster courtroom Thursday, Harter asked

that she not be held liable for the $500,000 it has cost the county


to care for the animals, and declined to sign the agreement, Heller


“It looked like a resolution everybody was comfortable with,” he

said. “Unfortunately, Ms. Harter wanted concessions made in her

criminal case, and that’s just not possible.”

Kimi Peck, founder of Chihuahua Rescue, said she was devastated by

the delay.

“I’m appalled that the breeder, when given the chance to get the


dogs into a safe, loving situation, decided it was to her advantage

to not release them,” she said. “This is proof her motivation all

along was monetary.”

Because an agreement could not be reached, a judge in the criminal

case against Harter postponed a decision on what to do with the dogs

until Aug. 5. Heller said it is unclear if Harter has any ownership

rights over the dogs, and he is confident the judge will allow

Chihuahua Rescue to place the animals.

After having a judge delay ruling on the dogs’ fate for the second

time, Peck said she is less optimistic that the Chihuahuas will be

released at the next hearing.

“We were optimistic they would do this yesterday, and we were

optimistic he would release the dogs the previous week,” she said.

“I’m a little gun shy at this point.”