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CONTACT 13: Dog rescuer under investigation for animal cruelty

Posted at 10:45 PM, Dec 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-08 02:47:21-05

There's a battle brewing between a dog rescuer and the county agency investigating her for animal cruelty. 

The woman won't go down without a fight and she's speaking exclusively to Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears.

Teri Askew vividly remembers the October day that "the biggest nightmare of my life happened."

Authorities seized 18 dogs from her -- six times the amount legally allowed in a private home -- after several people called Clark County Animal Control.

"We want to help the dogs and she just refused and refused and we couldn't walk away," said Jennifer Coppock. "We couldn't leave the dogs in that condition."

Askew signed a voluntary surrender form, but claims she did so under threat of arrest.

"I did not deserve to have my dogs taken from me! They didn't deserve it," Askew said.

But she admits she crossed the line between rescue and hoarding.

"It was too much. I knew it. I just got so busy and overwhelmed. But I tell you what, though... I love every one of them dearly."

Askew says she's been rescuing special needs dogs from all over the country for 20 years, saving those she says no one else will help.

"Deaf, blind, crippled, paralyzed, deformities, old."

County records call most of her dogs malnourished and emaciated. She fed them all a raw diet.

"Well, dogs are carnivores. So they eat what nature designed them to eat." 

Feeding dogs a raw diet means just that -- literally giving them raw meat and Askew's got freezers full of it in her garage. One is full of chicken and turkey and another is filled to the brim with beef, pork, lamb and fish.

She says it's not a matter of not enough food, but merely one of portion management.

Veterinary experts say there are other concerns too.

"We worry about the food being contaminated with salmonella, campylobacter and a number of other organisms," said Dr. Ruth MacPete.

We showed Dr. MacPete pictures of the dogs authorities seized.

"And I would want to know as a veterinarian, why? Why is this dog so thin? Has this dog been tested for parasites? Is there a medical condition that this dog has or is this a case of starvation?"

When we asked to see veterinary records documenting the condition of the thinnest dog, Askew said, "If I have a vet on the phone helping me, I don't need to go down and spend $400. And that's why I don't have updated records on everybody."

Most of the dogs also weren't vaccinated for rabies and many weren't spayed or neutered.

"But there are also exemptions to the law," Askew said, "Which I did not have -- also violations on my behalf."

Gina Greisen with Nevada Voters for Animals helped write the law making some animal cruelty cases a felony. She believes that in Askew's case, authorities have overstepped their bounds.

"Someone who's a rescuer who was trying to help animals and crossed the line and possibly even may be in a hoarding situation -- which we're working on a bill this session to address that -- I just didn't see any willful or malicious intent in that."

Askew wants the chance to have her own vet examine the animals being held at the shelter before the county adopts them out or euthanizes them.  

"It's not a matter of me wanting them back. That's what I want people to understand. I don't expect to get all my dogs back. But I can't live not knowing what happened," she said, breaking down in tears. "I just can't."

Late last week, a judge granted Askew a restraining order against Animal Control and the Animal Foundation to prevent them from killing, transferring, selling or in any way disposing of any of the 18 dogs. 

Neither Animal Control, the Animal Foundation nor anyone from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department's Animal Cruelty unit would talk due to the ongoing investigation. 

Askew still has not been charged with any crime. 

There's a court hearing on the Motion for Preliminary Injunction set for Thursday morning and Contact 13 will be there.