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Applegate woman pleads guilty to animal abuse

An Applegate woman must do community service and pay veterinary bills for 58 animals removed from her home last January after they were found living in unsafe conditions.

Jackson County Circuit Judge Tim Barnack ordered Vanessa Hughes, 42, to serve 240 hours of community service after she pleaded guilty Thursday to six felony charges of second-degree animal abuse.

The animals, all birds and dogs, were removed Jan. 9, 2015, from her home in the 4700 block of Highway 238 by Jackson County Animal Control.

Deputy District Attorney Marco Boccato described Hughes' property as a "puppy mill, for lack of better words," adding later that the roughly two dozen dogs on the property were denied veterinary care and their shelters were unclean and lacked clean water.

Animal control officers made multiple visits prior to removing the animals. They described the dogs' living conditions as "deplorable," according to court documents. 

The dozens of tropical birds in an aviary lacked food and had inadequate shelter for the winter months, according to Boccato.

Hughes' lawyer, Michael Kellington, said he grew up with Hughes in the Applegate and knew her as someone who cared about animals. He said the conditions he saw on the property appeared to be adequate, but taking Hughes' 58 charges to trial would require the testimony of multiple veterinarian witnesses.

"We believe this would be a gnarly five-day trial where the outcome would be up for grabs," Kellington said.

Kellington said that Hughes will have to sell her property to afford the judgment against her and will not be able to work in the way she is accustomed.

"Mrs. Hughes has been through the ringer, too," Kellington said.

Boccato said he advocated for the community service sentence in part because of Hughes' lack of criminal history, but also because she likely would be released early from a jail sentence.

"We believe having to do a significant amount of community service, she'd actually pay her debt to society," Boccato said.

Barnack agreed with Boccato.

"If I was to impose jail on this, because of the jail overcrowding, you'd get bumped," Barnack said.

As part of the plea agreement, Hughes will be barred from owning any animals aside from the six dogs and birds she kept in her home. Polygraph tests will be used to ensure compliance.

"Once those pets are gone, you can't have any more pets," Barnack said. 

The animals removed from Hughes' property have recovered and been placed in homes, Boccato said. The animals required treatment from veterinarians in Portland, Salem and Medford and were placed in the care of the Oregon Humane Society. As part of the plea agreement, Hughes will pay a yet undetermined amount of restitution for the veterinary care needed for the animals removed from her property.

Following the hearing, Boccato said Hughes' cooperation helped the animals recover. She complied with investigators early on and released ownership of the animals immediately so they could get proper veterinary care.

"We didn't have a protracted dispute over ownership," Boccato said.

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.