Barbara Kavars

Barbara Kavars, 65, of Manly, appears in Worth County Magistrate Court on Tuesday regarding ownership of some of the dogs and cats seized from her property in November by law enforcement and animal welfare officials.

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NORTHWOOD -- A North Iowa woman accused of running a puppy mill testified in court Tuesday that caring for the 154 dogs became overwhelming following the death of her husband last year.

Barbara Kavars, 65, Manly, is asking the Worth County Magistrate Court to allow her to keep nine Samoyeds and four cats seized by the Worth County Sheriff’s Office and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals last month.

Kavars claims she didn’t neglect the animals and said she has cleaned part of her home and three of her 32 kennels since her dogs were seized.

“I will have so much more time for them,” Kavars said. “My dogs were well-groomed when I had time.”

The animals were seized during an animal neglect-related search. Kavars has not been charged with a crime, but the ASPCA says charges are pending.

The dogs were living in “appalling and overcrowded conditions and exhibiting signs of neglect with no access to clean water,” according to the ASPCA. The outdoor kennels had little to no food and no clean water, with only a few non-heated buckets containing frozen water, according to court documents. The kennels, which smelled strongly of ammonia and were full of feces, had limited roof cover, were unheated and were overcrowded.

Many of the dogs seized were underweight, had dental problems, untrimmed nails and fecal matter on their bodies and between the pads of their feet. Some dogs were fighting, others were cowering and some had trouble standing and walking.

Kavars testified Tuesday afternoon that things had been difficult since her husband was diagnosed with cancer in January 2014. The couple had been breeding Samoyeds since 1998.

“I realized I would be doing everything myself,” she said.

She said care for her husband got in the way of the dogs right away. Her husband died in June 2017, and that’s when things started getting out of control.

“I was feeling overwhelmed with him being gone,” she said.

Kavars claimed she contacted agencies to take some of the dogs before 2017, but some organizations “would not work with a breeder.” In 2018, her vet told her the Humane Society of North Iowa would take some of the dogs.

Kavars estimated through the year, she has released about 100 dogs to the Humane Society.

Worth County Sheriff’s Deputy Andy Grunhovd said Monday he was initially called to the property due to concern about the number of dogs Kavars had.

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White Fire Kennels was selling dogs as recently as the Nov. 11, the day before the animals were seized. Kavars said she had continued to sell puppies as she was releasing older male dogs to the Humane Society of North Iowa.

“The Humane Society can’t be an overstock for all unsellable dogs,” Grunhovd said.

Kavars repeatedly told him she wanted to get rid of some of the dogs, Grunhovd testified, but every time she let go of a few of them, more puppies were born.

Kavars' lawyer argued that since all the animals were removed, Kavars would have plenty of room for the animals she wants returned. He showed recent photos of the house, which showed Kavars had recently cleaned.

Grunhovd and ASPCA officials had testified the house also smelled strongly of ammonia and was littered with feces and stained with urine.

Kavars said the house got messy because she was so focused on the dogs outside.

“I did feel that they were more important than myself and the house,” she said, claiming she was unaffected by the ammonia smell in her home.

Kavars claimed she was rushed and pressured into signing the surrender agreement and she was under the impression the animals she selected would remain with her.

“I guess that day I was very stressed,” she said, also claiming that she did not know she was actually releasing the dogs to the county.

But Grunhovd testified that was not the case.

“She was under no pressure to surrender the animals. We asked her how many she was willing to release, and she couldn’t give a number,” Grunhovd said.

Kavars said she would not continue breeding if the dogs were returned. When asked if the dogs would be spayed and neutered, she said she was unsure.

Krull is expected to rule on Kavars’ request for custody of the 13 animals before the Christmas holiday.

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