Public Safety

Update: Judge returns only a few animals to Vinton family after hundreds were seized in January

Of 500-plus seized, Galkowskis limited to 10 rabbits or guinea pigs, 1 turtle, 3 lizards

(Submitted photo) Photo submitted by Cedar Valley Humane Society of hoarding situation in Vinton.
(Submitted photo) Photo submitted by Cedar Valley Humane Society of hoarding situation in Vinton.
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The fate of the hundreds of animals seized by authorities from a Vinton home due to reports of neglect has been decided.

In a Thursday ruling, Sixth Judicial District Chief Judge Patrick Grady ruled Marshall and Barbara Galkowski can reclaim no more than 10 rabbits or guinea pigs, one turtle and three lizards from more than 500 animals authorities took from the Galkowskis’ Vinton home Jan. 16.

He also said they would be responsible for paying the costs of Benton County’s seizure of the animals and their continued care.

In his ruling, Grady determined the birds taken from the home — around 50 — “appear to be overly exposed to disease” and would not be returned. The “large snake” — identified earlier as a ball python by the Cedar Valley Humane Society — also would not be returned to the Galkowski’s because Vinton city code prohibits the possession of such a snake within the city limits.

In testimony at a Jan. 29 hearing in Benton County District Court, Vinton Animal Control Agent Preston Moore said he and Vinton police went to the Galkowski home with a warrant after a utility company employee reported “a number of animals and an illegal snake” on the premises.

Moore testified that he and others were immediately aware of the extremely strong smell of ammonia in the home, “which indicated there was a great deal of uncleaned urine in the premises.”

He said investigators found “stacked cages and tote boxes, primarily in the basement, crowded with guinea pigs, rabbits, mice, chinchillas, birds, a degus and a large uncaged snake.”

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Moore said more than 500 animals, including 50 birds, were found, as well as several dead animals in the trash, on a work bench and in some of the cages.

Barbara Galkowski testified at the hearing that “she and her family were regularly engaged in raising and showing small animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs.”

She conceded they had been “overwhelmed with rescues,” that she had been ill and that her four home-schooled children had gotten behind in caring for the animals.

In the ruling, Grady stated that “while it may be true that Barbara and her family were motivated by the best of intentions,” the court had “no trouble concluding that the seized animals found at the Galkowski residence were neglected,” due to the improper cleaning of animal waste, inadequate heating and cooling and that the animals, “on the whole,” were not provided sufficient food or water.

Grady said Benton County has until April 1 to determine the cost of seizing, caring for and disposing of the seized animals. The Galkowskis then will be ordered to pay that sum, with possibly another hearing to assess the reasonableness of the charges.

The Galkowskis had asked to have all of the animals returned, but Grady allowed them only a small number, in recognition that the Galkowski children “occasionally show rabbits and guinea pigs in competitions.”

The seized animals are being cared for by volunteers from the Cedar Valley Humane Society, Friends of the Shelter and Wild Thunder Animal Rescue.

Grady ruled the animals may be sold to the public “in groups of no more than ten so long as they are cleared as healthy.”

Any animals remaining after Feb. 18, he ruled, shall be destroyed in compliance with Iowa law.

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On Friday morning Cedar Valley Human Society announced via Facebook post that it does not plan on euthanizing any of the animals that came to the shelter because of this case.

“We will not euthanize these animals,” the post stated. “We operate as a no kill shelter and are confident that we will find placement for each and every one of them.”

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