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Rowell pleads not guilty, next hearing set for October

Deborah Rowell of Pine River pleaded not guilty to animal cruelty charges Aug. 19 in Cass County District Court, and her next court hearing was scheduled for October.

Cass County Attorney Chris Strandlie said Rowell’s attorney filed a civil lawsuit requesting the return of the dogs seized from her property last month following investigation and execution of a search warrant by the Cass County Sheriff’s Department. The hearing for the civil suit was Aug. 21. Rowell’s attorney argued that judges should not be allowed to review their own warrants. Judge Jana Austad, who signed the initial search warrant and issued an order Aug. 7 that the dogs were lawfully seized during the execution of the search warrant, recused herself. Strandlie said state statute required that the hearing be conducted by the same judge who issued the warrant. Because Austad recused herself, nothing can be done.

The new judge requested briefs by Aug. 28.

“I anticipate that the attorney will argue that we’re still talking about the validity of the warrant and seizure in this case,” Strandlie said. “I also anticipate that the judge will not sit on this too long. We are doing what we can to provide for the present and future well-being of these dogs as well as dogs that she will acquire in the future.”

Though Strandlie said they cannot legally put the dogs seized in this case up for adoption until given permission by the judge, he expects the judge will give the county clear direction in the near future.

Rowell, 60, was charged seven misdemeanor and two petty misdemeanor counts relating to animal neglect at her kennel on County Road 1 East. On July 16, 133 dogs, 29 of them puppies, were seized.