Edgewood woman found guilty of animal cruelty

Debra Clopton

Merlin’s favorite pastime was shredding paper. Clara liked singing. Maccabee had an affinity for hunting rabbits.

Debra Clopton — a former veterinarian accused of animal cruelty after officers seized 48 dogs from her littered Edgewood home — recounted the age, breed and personality traits of several of the dogs in court Friday, hoping to convince jurors that animals seized during a 2013 raid were beloved pets and not victims of neglect or mistreatment.

But the Santa Fe County jury deliberated for just an hour before finding her guilty of 22 counts of animal cruelty and one count of practicing veterinary medicine without a license.

Officials said some of the animals had to be euthanized for medical reasons, but most eventually were adopted into new homes.

Clopton, whose crimes could carry a cumulative maximum possible penalty of just under 23 years in prison, was taken into custody shortly after the verdict was read Friday evening. Prosecutors asked for a 60-day evaluation of Clopton before state District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer pronounces sentence.

During a three-day trial, jurors also heard testimony from animal control officers and veterinarians about the condition of the dogs and the squalor that officers said they encountered at Clopton’s southern Santa Fe County home.

Clopton admitted during the trial that she violated a county ordinance that limits private citizens to keeping no more than 10 dogs. She also admitted that she practiced veterinary medicine without a license by treating the dogs after her license had been revoked, though she claimed she didn’t know about the revocation.

Public Defender Sydney West argued that the fact that Clopton had four dozen dogs doesn’t mean she mistreated them. In fact, the lawyer said, many of Clopton’s dogs were downright pampered, receiving daily massages, walks and medical attention geared to their individual needs.

Clopton, whose neighbors had complained about constant barking and dog fights at her house, originally faced 48 counts of animal cruelty, one for each dog, plus several counts of illegal possession of various veterinary drugs. But the District Attorney’s Office dismissed more than half of the charges without explanation at the outset of the trial earlier this week.

Clopton had worked as a veterinarian for 20 years before losing her license. When she was arrested in 2013, she initially tried to retain ownership of the animals. Eventually, however, she agreed to relinquish all but 10 after learning she would have to pay tens of thousands of dollars for care of the animals in a shelter while she awaited trial. She fought to regain custody the dogs, some of whom she had raised since they were puppies, but ultimately could not afford to pay for their care and forfeited them to the shelter.

The Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society, which was temporarily overwhelmed by the dozens of dogs when they first were brought in from Clopton’s home, found that seven of the canines were pregnant.

Contact Phaedra Haywood at 505-986-3068 or phaywood@sfnewmexican.com. Follow her on Twitter at @phaedraann.com.

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