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Collie owner wants her day in court

Karen Chestney will be back in an Island County courtroom on Sept. 25 to appeal her guilty plea on charges of second-degree animal neglect.

Chestney will be appealing a decision by the county's district court that denied her motion to withdraw an earlier guilty plea. She is claiming she did not have adequate representation at the time of her plea and is taking her claim to Island County Superior Court.

Chestney, and her husband, Paul, were convicted on June 18 of second-degree animal cruelty for keeping 79 collies in inhumane conditions at their Camano Island home. Each entered an "Alford" plea at the time, meaning that they maintained their innocence, but believed the prosecution would prevail at the trial.

Island County deputy prosecutor Michael Henegen said "the issue is whether or not she freely and voluntarily made the plea and was aware of the consequences."

Henegen likened it to "buyers remorse."

"Typically, we don't let people walk away when they withdraw a guilty plea," he said.

Henegan said if the superior court grants her request, Island County will "take her back where we started, in court."

The Chestneys were found with the 79 collies on their property on May 5, 2002. Island County Animal Control took the dogs into protective custody.

At a June 18 sentencing, the Chestneys were ordered to pay fines; were placed under probation for two years; were sentenced to electronic home monitoring; and were ordered to select only 10 of the dogs to keep. Those 10 dogs needed to be spayed or neutered at the Chestneys' expense before returning to the Chestney home.

They were back in court in July 2002 for non-compliance of that court order for failing to identify the 10 dogs they wished to keep, which held up the adoption process for the other 69 dogs. All 79 dogs had been cared for in shelters, professional kennels and individual volunteer foster homes for the past two months.

The inability to seek adoptive homes for the dogs had forced the county to continue paying for their care, which is equal to $5 per day per dog.

The Chestneys were denied the rescinding of their Alford plea. The county district court also ordered that four dogs the couple selected be returned to them and the other 75 dogs be put up for adoption.

They were also ordered to pay a $918 veterinary bill for surgery on one of the collies, as well as $5 per day per dog from June 18 until the dogs were placed in new homes.

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