Pair with 108 dogs previously charged with animal cruelty

LEFT: Donald Frederick Smith RIGHT: Melissa Kay Copen


ALLEGAN, Mich. (WOOD) — The husband and wife who face criminal charges after more than 100 animals were seized from their rural Van Buren County home have had previous legal trouble linked to animals in their care.

Wednesday, Donald Smith and Melissa Copen were each charged with animal cruelty after authorities found 108 dogs, six cats and a horse at their home near Lawrence. A Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant described an “outrageous” smell of animal waste and “horrible” conditions at their property.

Copen told 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday that the animals had been well taken care of and shouldn’t have been removed. She said they got “overwhelmed” after their rescue program grew to have too many animals.

Records show it’s a story she and her husband know well.

LEFT: Donald Frederick Smith RIGHT: Melissa Kay Copen
LEFT: Donald Frederick Smith RIGHT: Melissa Kay Copen

In 2000, Smith was accused of stealing five dogs he claimed had been abandoned. At the time, he and his wife ran an animal rescue.

“I would go to jail not to have those dogs go back,” he said at the time.

Breeder Norma Salmon said the dogs were hers.

“Those dogs were never abandoned. While I was in the process of moving, my husband and I went up there daily to take care of them,” she said in 2000.

She eventually got two of her bulldogs back, but Smith had given the others away. That led to a lawsuit that was eventually settled.

In 2001, the couple was cited for noxious odors coming from their home in Allegan, where they lived at the time. They also had too many animals at that house and those animals needed a lot of medical care.

Both were charged with animal cruelty. Smith also had dozens of animal-related violations — everything from lack of dog licenses and vaccinations to operating an unlicensed kennel.

The couple reached a settlement to get the cases dismissed. They agreed to pay $1,152.48 to Allegan County to cover the animal’s medical costs. As part of the agreement, the county agreed to give all of the animals back.

Less than a year later, the couple filed bankruptcy. At the time, they still owed the county $1,010, Norma Salmon $3,500 and their attorney $5,000.

Inside the 25-page bankruptcy filing from 2002 is a note that they had 25 dogs and 30 cats at their Cuddly Critters Animal Rescue. That filing also shows the couple was spending $450 per month on food for themselves and $100 per months on animal care.

The 115 animals seized Wednesday are being cared for by three local vets and the kennel staff in Van Buren County, authorities say. One adult dog is in serious condition due to health problems.

The Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office said a number of organizations have stepped up to send donations. Pet Supplies Plus and Tractor Supply Co., as well as local residents, donated more than a dozen bags of food, as well as blankets, toys and other pet supplies.

It’s not clear how long the animals will be in the care of the sheriff’s office, so more donations are welcomed. Donations may be dropped off at the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office at 205 S. Kalamazoo St. in Paw Paw. Anyone with questions about how to help can call Lt. David Walker at 269.657.2006 or via email at walkerd@vbco.org.

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