“Bard of rescue” Jim Willis convicted of dog theft
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2008:
WILMINGTON–Jim Willis, 52, author of several
much-circulated poems and short essays about animal abandonment and
rescue, was on March 20, 2008 convicted of felony dog larcency in
Pender County, North Carolina, and sentenced to do 75 hours of
community service, spend two years on probation, and keep no more
than one pet, reported WECT-TV6 of Wilmington.
The case was one of two filed in 2007 in which neighbors
accused Willis of stealing dogs whom he said he had rescued. One dog
was recovered at a Wilmington home where Willis temporarily resided.
The charges involving that dog were not prosecuted, North Carolina
Voters for Animal Welfare founder B.B. Knowles told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
The conviction, in a case involving an elderly dog who was
well-known and well-liked in her neighborhood, according to Pender
Post staff writer Jefferson Weaver, was Willis’ second within less
than a year, with a variety of other cases pending.
Willis was convicted in Pender County Court on July 26,
2007–the day of his indictment for dog larcency–for making
harassing telephone calls to one of the women whose dog disappeared.
Hers was the dog who was recovered. Willis was reportedly sentenced
in that case to serve 24 months on probation, was assessed fines and
fees of $685, and drew a suspended 30-day jail term.
Willis was arraigned in January 2008 on charges of resisting
a public officer and second degree trespass, both misdemeanors.
An electrical fire on January 25, 2004 killed ten dogs and
four cats at Willis’ former home in Avella, Pennsylvania, while
Willis was attending a birthday party in his honor organized by Joe
Maringo of Southwest Pennsylvania Retriever Rescue.
Willis and several surviving animals relocated to the home of
Erin Schmidt, 32, in Forward Township, Pennsylvania. Police and
humane agencies removed 74 animals from the home on August 18, 2005.
Charges against Willis were later dropped, but Schmidt was convicted
on two counts of cruelty.
Moving to North Carolina, Willis in May 2006 became involved
in the dissolution of the former Northeast Georgia Canine Angels
sanctuary. Founded in Athens, Georgia, by Lynette Rowe and Susan
Wells, Canine Angels relocated to Dewy Rose, Georgia, in 2001.
“The state Department of Agriculture cited Rowe and Wells for
62 violations of the animal welfare code, and they had racked up
more than $15,000 in fines, before they signed a consent agreement to
close the sanctuary,” summarized Claire Davis in The Legal Animal,
published by the Best Friends Animal Society. “Wells and Rowe later
reneged on the terms of the agreement, trying to prevent the
Department of Agriculture from closing the sanctuary and seizing the
dogs, and eventually signing over ownership of all the animals to
Willis,” Davis wrote.
While Willis became the legal owner of the 130 animals, they
remained on the Canine Angels property in care of Kat 5, a charity
formed in 2005 by Susan Meyer to help animals left homeless by
Hurricane Katrina. Kat 5 and the Best Friends Network spent almost a
year finding homes for the former Canine Angels animals.