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Convicted Dog Hoarder Sent to Prison... For Now

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By Steve White swhite@nebraska.tv

A convicted dog hoarder has been sent to jail by a judge, who saved his most scathing remarks for a prison system he says is not qualified to help her.

For leaving two dozen dogs to die and then violating probation by hoarding more, Denise Withee is going to prison, but she will be there only 90 days.

Judge William Wright issued a strict order to the women's prison in York, telling them to get to the bottom of Withee's obsession and then he will make a final decision.

Wright expressed frustration with a report prepared by probation officers, pointing to the lack of information about Withee's apparent animal obsession.

"God knows why it's not in the medical records," Wright remarked, his hands to his head.

Wright said it was apparent Withee self-medicated her depression by surrounding herself with animals.

Withee has been on several prescriptions, including paxil, zoloft, prozac, prilosec, blood pressure medication, and has received electroshock therapy.

Wright agree Withee had severe mental problems, but did not qualify for the insanity defense.

He said he could not fashion a probation that protected society and more importantly pets. In a perfect world, the judge said Withee would be placed in an institution.

He condemned the state for eliminating institutions in favor of community based services that he said were under funded.

Wright said he was "left to figure what the devil to do." Probation would leave risks to society, while prison was not equipped to deal with mental illness.

Wright opted for what he called the "third option", sending Withee to prison for 90 days for extensive testing. Wright said his order would force the state to assist with an evaluation specific to her animal hoarding.

After that time, wright said he would make a final determination.

Humane Society officials were pleased with the order, saying it showed the judge was trying to address the root of the problem.

Withee was arrested in 2008 for dumping two dozen dead and dying dogs in a field near Grand Island. She was convicted in 2009 and placed on probation, with the condition she not own animals. But she was recently found with 8 - 13 dogs at her Sioux City area home. Officials said the dogs were in cages and crates and were using a garage as a "litter box."

Knowing she would likely have her probation revoked, Withee checked into a mental hospital for 60 days and then turned herself in to jail, where she has sat since then.

She was scheduled to be re-sentenced, but the judge's order delays final sentencing for 90 days.

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