Special Report: Operation Rescue
Two trials—one civil, one criminal—began in March 2005. In court, Woodley attorney Norman Post described the lawsuit as a fund-raising stunt by "the California crowd" at ALDF. He and cocounsel Whitaker insisted their clients had not broken the state's cruelty to animals laws: They had never kicked, shot, poisoned, or starved their dogs.
But eight veterinarians disagreed with that interpretation of the law. "Cruelty can be passive," testified Elizabeth Lyerly, a prominent North Carolina vet. "You don't have to put cigarettes out on a dog for it to be cruelty."
Immediately after closing arguments, trial judge Albert Corbett Jr. issued his ruling. He found the Woodleys guilty of the criminal charges and gave each 45 days in jail, but suspended the sentences provided the couple undergo a one-year supervised probation and not take in any more animals for five years. As a result of the civil case, he then released all the dogs to ALDF's custody. The organization would need to house the animals at its own expense and could not spay or neuter them (unless medically necessary) until the appeals process ended. Moreover, if the Woodleys won the final appeal, ALDF would have to return the dogs.
ALDF had never taken custody of animals before. "All of a sudden, we were a bunch of lawyers getting into the shelter business," says general counsel Joyce Tischler. And these weren't just any dogs: They were dogs with just about every type of medical condition, not to mention trauma. Walter the Boston terrier suffered from liver damage and was missing fur on his belly and haunches. "He would sit up on his hind feet, like a gopher, and stare for hours," says Heather Jackson, the police officer, who had started to fall for him. "Everybody thought it was cute, until we realized he was doing it out of distress." Other dogs were aggressive: Stephen Wells, ALDF's current executive director, spent his last five days in Sanford with one hand bandaged from a bite.
As local animal groups spread the news of the case by e-mail, support poured in. A real estate agent named Kelly Wright found an abandoned furniture factory and convinced its owner to offer the building as a temporary shelter dubbed the Halls of Hope. Donors offered pet food, kennels, and vinyl flooring. Hundreds of volunteers, including veterinarians, showed up to care for the animals until homes could be found. "The community basically said, 'Whatever you need, you'll get it,'" says Wells. Jackson visited so often—at least four days a week—that "we had to pry her loose from the doorway most nights," Wells jokes.
An hour away, psychologist Katy McClure was exercising at a YMCA in Chapel Hill when she noticed a sign on the bulletin board requesting supplies for the Woodley dogs. She had just moved to North Carolina and was still unemployed. With time on her hands, she dug up several surplus blankets and headed down to Sanford.
After meeting the dogs, 50-year-old McClure couldn't stay away. "There were so many of them, and they would all look right at you," she says. "I thought, 'I can do something here. This is worthy.'" Three times a week, she'd spend hours cleaning the facility before claiming her reward: the chance to exercise the Jack Russell terriers. "I'd run around like a maniac, and they would chase me in fun, making their little demon noises," she says. Helping out with the Woodley dogs reminded McClure of her own clinical work with traumatized humans. She drove home each night feeling tired and useful.