Spindletop, County Reach Last-Minute Agreement

Categories: Courts

These people just want to know if their dogs are among the living.

Clarification: The 2012 agreed order between Montgomery County and Leah Purcell, in which Purcell surrendered 287 dogs that a judge found were "cruelly treated," bars Purcell from operating an animal shelter, refuge, or rescue in Montgomery County. It does not prohibit her from boarding animals.

For more explanation, see the end of this article.

Spindletop Refuge owner Leah Purcell agreed to relinquish 287 dogs seized from her Willis ranch, but she still may face criminal charges under a last-minute agreement reached today.

Those who had placed dogs at Spindletop might be able to pick them up as early as this weekend, provided they have proof of ownership.

After hours of private pretrial negotiations, Purcell's attorney, Zandra Anderson, agreed to terms that bar Purcell from future rescue and boarding and also subject her to random animal welfare checks for two years. The case will be referred to a grand jury, which will decide whether to indict. (Purcell was allowed to reclaim 11 dogs belonging to her or her mother.)

The dogs are in the county's custody, and Constable Tim Holifield assured the anxious crowd who appeared for today's court hearing that the Humane Society of the United States, which assisted in the Spindletop seizure, is committed to not euthanizing any of the dogs.

We're glad to see the dogs are set to be returned to their owners soon, but the potential for criminal charges means that Purcell and Anderson will likely remain tight-lipped.

That's especially troubling to people like Garnell McMichael, who said she was told by a friend of Purcell's that two dogs she placed at Spindletop in March suffocated to death over a month ago.

McMichael, who drove in from Garland, was one of 40-odd people who came to today's hearing hoping to find out whether their dogs were among the 298 seized by county authorities Tuesday or among the 38 who allegedly suffocated after a building on the Willis ranch lost power.

Hair Balls was hoping to learn more about the county's evidence, and maybe hear a defense from Purcell or Anderson, who have declined to comment on the situation.

We just wonder why McMichael had to learn about her dogs' fate secondhand; it seems like the least Purcell and Anderson could do is provide the names of all dogs who died at Spindletop in the last six months. (We left a message for the friend and will update if we hear back.)

It's going to take awhile to piece together what exactly happened at Spindletop, which, according to Texas Secretary of State files, was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) in 2005 and then forfeited existence in 2007.

The three board members listed include Purcell's mother, Louise, and a Katrina Milano of Pennsylvania. We've only been able to speak with the third member, who asked us not to use her name. She said that she helped Purcell -- a friend at the time -- file the paperwork, but, to her knowledge, Spindletop was a 501(c)(3) in name only. There were no board meetings or updated filings (hence the dissolution in 2007).

It's also going to take awhile to gain an understanding of Purcell's non-rescue pursuits, which at one time included breeding and show competitions. (It doesn't look like Purcell has done much of either since 2002, if at all, but Anderson declined to say how long Purcell was involved with that stuff.)

It would have been nice if Purcell or Anderson could have at least taken McMichael aside and explain just exactly when and how two shelter pitties she entrusted to Purcell died. Their names were Angel and Poloka; McMichael said she fostered Angel for 18 months. She said she had to board the dogs after the City of Garland decided that her fencing was not up to code.

Like many others across the country, she was referred to Spindletop, the sanctuary with a sterling reputation. McMichael told us Purcell e-mailed her July 10 to say that Angel had been adopted. But now it appears that Angel -- and Poloka -- likely died a month earlier.

We're glad these dogs will be going home soon. But we figure McMichael, and all the others, deserve an explanation. We wonder if they'll ever get it.

Further clarification:Many of the dogs Purcell claimed to have been "boarding" at her Spindletop Dog Refuge were dogs that remained in her custody for up to four years after she told the owners the dogs had been adopted -- a practice that is not consistent with general boarding services.

Purcell would not be in violation of the court order if she is legitimately boarding animals.

Another condition of the court order is that Purcell "cooperates with Montgomery County and Montgomery County Animal control, via her attorney, so that any rightful owners of any of the 287 dogs may timely get possession of their dogs."

As noted in this week's story, Purcell and her attorney, Zandra Anderson, have refused to abide by that condition in at least two cases. In one case -- eight months after the Spindletop raid -- the owner of a dog "boarded" at Spindletop still has not heard from Purcell or Anderson.

This is an e-mail sent on October 24, 2012 -- two months after Purcell registered a website for a new animal care business -- from the Houston Press to Purcell, Anderson, and Montgomery County Animal Control Director Tim Holifield.

Hi Zandra,

I'm writing you on the record to see if you will disclose the whereabouts of a pit bull named Sophocles who Michelle Anderson left in Spindletop's care on April 27th. According to Michelle, Leah told her that Sophocles was adopted by "friends of friends" in Dallas.

If you are willing to say what happened to Sophocles, I will need a response from you by 5 p.m. today, Wednesday, Oct. 24. Please let me know if you need more information, although Leah Purcell should still have the paperwork. Your response, or lack thereof, will be noted in future articles.


It was sent after the dog's owner contacted the Press after not getting a response from Purcell or Anderson as to whether her dog was alive, or was one of at least 30 who fatally overheated in a Spindletop building. To this date, the owner has no idea what happened to her dog.

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Why did the Humane Society of the United States, Animal Farm Foundation, Montgomery County and Red Rover with the underwriting of PetSmart Charities send these two dogs for refuge at BAD RAP only to have them killed?

These two gentle dogs, one was Bindi at Spindletop and was exemplary temperament. She was renamed '#6' at BAD RAP and murdered.

Spindletop Missing and Dead Dogs wants to know why? If all of these agencies with huge foundation money from PetSmart Charities were involved, how did these two dogs wind up dead and murdered at the BAD RAP group which promotes itself as a rescue and rehab facility?

Here is BAD RAP posting the day of Spindletop raid and seizure as a fundraising op...only to kill the two dogs they 'helped'....



I encourage everyone to view the following flyer: TRUTH ABOUT PIT BULLS www.understand-a-bull.com/BSL/Flyers/Truthaboutpitbulls.pdf

and the following link www.understand-a-bull.com/PitbullInformation/QA.htm



Those entrusted to protect animals must be held accountable for  crimes of abuse and neglect.  I urge officials to vigorously enforce anti-cruelty laws and punish animal abusers to the fullest extent under the law.  Violence against animals is a well-documented precursor to violence against humans.


Angel and Poloka and all of the other souls entrusted in Spindletops care DESERVED MORE. This is the worst thing that could happen to this already exploited, abused and neglected breed. Pit Bulls deserve better! They are the most sensitive and most forgiving breed as well... dying by humane injection would be better than suffocating in a crate in an overcrowded building. RIP all you precious babies... YOU DESERVED MORE <3


 @greyfellas Great link.. In talking to some of the HSUS volunteers that have been working the STR mess. They all are in love with these dogs. Pit owners typically are. We love ours. They have a real desire to please unlike any dogs I have ever owned. I have had Labs, Chesapeakes, German Short Hairs, Weimaraner's and a lot of rescue mutts.. Pits really want the love. They are strong and may have strong prey drives so owners need to be responsible when out and about ...but ours loves other dogs, people and our cat of all things...Anyway thanks again I want to share this with others..



I have no doubt the HSUS volunteers are true animal lovers who would be appalled at the fact that animal rescuers in the community had to be assured that HSUS wouldn't lobby to get the dogs killed by others.  (HSUS has no shelters or facilities to euthanize, though they pretend to.)


Constable Holifield deserves an A for his handling of the situation.  Great to see the clarification that HSUS "assisted in the seizure" versus their usual m.o. - taking full credit.  It sounds like HSUS did more good than harm here, thanks to their dedicated volunteers, cooperative work with more experienced groups like Animal Farm Foundation, Petsmart, pit bull rescuers and  local officials.  That is progress.  And Leah Purcell definitely did more harm than good and should have been stopped long ago.


HSUS PR and fundraising off this case will be monitored; public concern about their involvement was justified and necessary.  They are not above the rules.  Charities need to be scrutinized and have no business trying to silence or harass critics.

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