Records: Couple with 108 dogs had agreed to random inspections

LEFT: Donald Frederick Smith RIGHT: Melissa Kay Copen


LAWRENCE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Years before deputies seized more than 100 dogs from their home, a Van Buren County couple agreed to let animal control officers randomly inspect their home to make sure their animals were safe, court records show.

But it appears that never happened.

“They never came out here,” Melissa Copen said on Friday. “Nobody cared, nobody cared until I asked for help, and then they arrested me.”

Copen and her husband, Daniel F. Smith, are accused of animal cruelty after Van Buren County Animal Control officers this week found what they called “deplorable” conditions at their home on 52nd Avenue in Lawrence Township.

The officers said they seized 108 dogs, 6 cats and a horse after responding to the home on a complaint.

Copen has denied her animals were poorly cared for.

However, Van Buren County animal control officials said on Friday that two of the dogs are in critical condition at animal hospitals, while many others are being treated for less-serious medical conditions.

It wasn’t the first time the couple has faced animal cruelty charges.

In 2001, in the city of Allegan, they were charged with animal cruelty and operating an unlicensed kennel.

“We had 25 dogs back in Allegan,” Copen said. “That was dismissed. It was all thrown out. It’s nothing.”

The animals were returned to them in 2001, but they agreed to “random and periodic inspections” by Van Buren or Allegan county animal control officers to “assure that the animals are being kept healthy, well-fed and watered, exercised and in a clean and adequate shelter,” Allegan County court records show.

It was about that time, they had moved to Van Buren County, where records show they ran the Cuddly Critters Animal Shelter.

Van Buren County property records show they bought their present home on 52nd Avenue in Lawrence Township in 2004.

“When we first moved in here, we asked Van Buren to come check out the area to see how many dogs we could have, because we were rescuing them,” Copen said. “They checked it, said it was great.”

But since then, she said, there have been no random checks.

The head of Van Buren County Animal Control said he wasn’t aware of the 2001 court order. He’s been in charge for a year and a half.

“Our animal control division wasn’t even aware that these folks lived in our county and that order was in fact in place,” Sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Abbott said.

He blamed the couple for that.

“They’ve never registered (their) animals so they’ve never been on our radar,” he said. “That’s on them.”

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