Jail time in East Bay Township animal abuse case

·5 min read

Jun. 3—TRAVERSE CITY — An East Bay Township man was sentenced to six months in jail and is banned for five years from owning any animal "with a central nervous system," after accepting a plea agreement in a felony animal cruelty case.

Raymond Roy Feagles, 73, appeared Friday before 13th Circuit Court Judge Kevin Elsenheimer, who said sentencing guidelines were insufficient considering details of the crime the defendant was accused of.

"There were dog carcasses found in bags on the property," Elsenheimer said. "The state that these animals were found in was reprehensible. Some of them were frozen to the ground on their chains."

The state, Elsenheimer said, views dogs as property, not as beings with inherent civil rights like human beings, and therefore the sentencing guidelines for abuse, cruelty, neglect and even torture are comparatively mild — in this case, zero to three months in jail.

The legislature, in setting these guidelines, did not anticipate the sheer number and volume of animals in the Feagles case, the judge said, adding if the law allowed a lifetime ban against owning animals, he would have levied it.

In January, Grand Traverse County Sheriff's deputies and animal control officers removed 164 dogs from in and around Feagles' Supply Road home. Officials had arrived to enforce a court-ordered blight-remediation effort when the animals were discovered living in life-threatening and unhygienic conditions.

Feagles on Friday gave an emotion-filled, wide-ranging statement to the court, in which he said he had great love for his dogs, tried to care for them the best he could, but became overwhelmed last winter after suffering a bout of pneumonia.

"I'm extremely sorry for my actions, the way they turned out," Feagles said, after explaining his experience training sled dogs and the "tiered" system he'd developed for supplying his outdoor dogs twice a day with water.

Court records show Feagles for several years ran a dog breeding operation out of his home, and that dead dogs were also found in a garage on property he owns in Mesick in Wexford County.

Elsenheimer referenced letters he's received about the case in recent weeks from animal advocates as well as a letter from East Bay Township Supervisor Beth Friend.

Friend shared the letter.

"While I would never suggest that I know what an appropriate sentence is for Raymond Feagles," Friend wrote to the judge, "I would only offer that every day he serves will not only be justified for his cruelty to animals but will be a relief to those in public service who Mr. Feagles threatened and blames for his woes."

Heidi Yates, director of the Cherryland Humane Society, whose staff and volunteers worked closely with county officials in addressing the needs of the 164 dogs, said the nonprofit has spent about $35,000 for healthcare and supplies.

That figure, she said, does not include donations of cash, food and veterinary services the community has provided to the organization during the past several months.

A court order, signed March 14 by 86th District Court Judge Robert Cooney, requires Feagles to reimburse East Bay Township for $37,351 spent to clean up his Supply Road property. Feagles, on April 26, objected to the amount and his objection is likely to be addressed at a future hearing.

Feagles was represented at his sentencing hearing by Traverse City attorney Michael Connelly, who told the judge his client was suffering from vertigo, had mental health needs and experienced symptoms of dementia.

Elsenheimer's probation order included a court-ordered mental health evaluation and counseling upon his release from Grand Traverse County's jail once he completed his sentence, with credit for 122 days served.

Yates said she and her staff have also been threatened by Feagles, in-person and over the phone.

Animal Control Supervisor Jaime Croel said she too was threatened by Feagles after offering to waive the $25 relinquishment fee the county usually charges an owner to relinquish a dog.

"No sentence is ever going to be enough, because right now the laws don't support what the community feels," Croel said.

She explained to a group of animal rights supporters gathered outside the courthouse after the hearing, that the animal abuse laws dated from 1919, which people were primarily concerned about protecting livestock from dogs.

It was past time, she said, for those laws to be updated to reflect the role dogs, and cats, now have as human companions.

Feagles was well-known to law enforcement officers, internal emails shared between area law enforcement agencies and provided the Record-Eagle as part of a Freedom of Information Act request, show.

For example, in 2021, officers were advised to exercise an "OSC" when responding to Feagles' Supply Road address for any nuisance, animal or blight complaints, after Feagles made mention of handguns positioned strategically around his property.

"OSC," refers to "officer safety caution," said Capt. Chris Clark, head of road patrol for Grand Traverse County Sheriff Department.

"When someone's past behavior, past criminal history, past statements have been in an assaultive or threatening manner, the OSC tells officers they need to be at a heightened sense of their own personal safety," Clark said.

Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg credited the community for the outpouring of support, from financial and in-kind donations to adopting or fostering many of the available dogs, and said over the years help was offered to Feagles, as well.

"At each turn," Moeggenberg said, "the defendant pushed that help away."