"Some [deputies] were walking in and turning around, throwing up outside," recalls Lisa Pelofsky, director of development for the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City, who had accompanied the deputies on the May 16 raid.
Sixteen emaciated horses and forty buffalo on the farm's 144 acres of pasture had piqued the concern of passersby, who reported the ailing animals to authorities. From the barn and an unoccupied farmhouse nearby, deputies impounded twelve dogs, three cats (one of which was a hairless breed worth about $2,000), three gecko lizards, three hedgehogs, a rabbit, three tarantulas and ten exotic birds, including a cockatoo and two parrots.
Most of the dogs, cats and exotic birds went to a local veterinarian for boarding and care. The Humane Society took in a few dogs, including the Great Danes, at its Kansas City, Kansas, kennel and boarded sixteen horses and a mule at a stable.
Five months later, the Humane Society is stuck with $30,000 in bills for the animals' care and little indication that Leavenworth County will prosecute Thiry. No charges have been filed, according to Roger Marrs, Leavenworth County assistant prosecutor. Nevertheless, county commissioners may invoke new exotic-animal restrictions because a caged bear and lion in another resident's wildlife collection bit people in August. Injuries to animals are an extremely low priority in government, says Pelofsky, "I've had prosecutors' offices tell me, 'We don't have a dog department.'" If convicted of cruelty to animals, a misdemeanor, Thiry would face up to twelve months in jail and a fine. Thiry could not be reached for comment.
After the Kansas City Star reported on Thiry's impounded animals in August, the Humane Society received dozens of adoption requests. "As soon as people hear the word 'rescue,' it draws out all kinds of strange people who think they can get something for nothing," Pelofsky says. But those calls didn't pan out. "We had some expensive animals with some expensive problems. You can't just put dogs in a barn and throw food and water in there. It doesn't work that way."
Chewy, a tan Chihuahua rescued from Thiry's farm, follows Pelofsky around the Humane Society's offices and kennels. Lance, a 4-foot-tall white-and-black Great Dane stands in a spacious dog run; he will soon go home with a woman who has adopted him. The horses were adopted earlier this month. But Pelofsky, with a $30,000 debt and a prosecutor who won't return her calls, still waits for her happy ending.
"The typical animal abuse case gets a lot of media attention. But if you follow it, the outcome is pretty lame," says Pelofsky. "Punishments are ineffective, fines are not severe and the message to cruelty offenders and others is 'Wait long enough and it will just go away.'"
On a recent October afternoon, thirty buffalo and three horses that had eluded capture still grazed on Thiry's land. Jerry Robbins, a Jefferson County veterinarian who stops by regularly to check on the bison for the Leavenworth County sheriff's department, says that as long as buffalo have grass to eat and water to drink, they can survive. But Robbins wants the prosecutor to come up with a plan before winter.
"I don't want to be out there gathering up [buffalo] when there's a foot of snow on the ground," says Robbins, who adds that if buffalo get hungry enough, they will tear through fences in search of food. "It's the responsibility of the county attorney to make a decision."