OKLAHOMA CITY – There has been a surprising twist in a case of animal cruelty involving exotic birds.
In June, OKC Animal Welfare seized 14 tropical birds from a home near N.W. 23rd and Council in Oklahoma City.
They said the birds were malnourished and missing feathers.
On Wednesday, an Oklahoma County district judge ruled that the birds must be returned to their owner.
Oklahoma City Police, Oklahoma City Fire Department, OKC City-County Health Department and OKC Animal Welfare all responded to the complaint call; neighbors believed the birds were abandoned.
Police say conditions in the house were deplorable.
Animal welfare seized six parrots and eight macaws. They say the exotic birds were malnourished and losing feathers.
The owner, Paul Fondren, was charged with felony animal cruelty.
All 14 birds are being kept at the OKC Animal Shelter.
They have new cages, new toys and the feathers have grown back.
Meanwhile, Fondren fought back in court because detectives entered his home without a search warrant or his consent.
He won, and the judge ruled in Fondren’s favor, saying the city will have to return the birds.
Also, because of the ruling in this civil asset forfeiture case, there is now very little evidence in the criminal case against Fondren.
Those charges may be dropped.
“So you had all these government agencies going out to Mr. Fondren’s home and nobody said, ‘Hey, do you think we should call Mr. Fondren and see if we can get his consent? Or maybe we ought to go a judge and get a warrant?’ They did neither!” said Fondren’s defense attorney Scott Adams.
Adams says the birds were not in danger in Fondren’s home.
“They just go do whatever they want to do because no one ever challenges them,” Adams said.
In fact, he says Fondren has cared for the birds since they were eggs. Some of them are 45 years old.
OKC Animal Welfare confirms they entered the home without consent and without a warrant.
They say, city policy allows their investigators to enter a property without a warrant when an animal is in danger.
“If we get there and conditions are deplorable and animals are in danger and they need to be taken right away, our ordinance gives us the authority to pull based on that,” said OKC Animal Welfare’s Lyne Huffman.
Fondren has been paying for the care of the birds, about $4,000 so far.
His attorney plans to file a motion for a refund to get the money back.
He’s expected to get the birds back within a week.
“It goes down to our basic fundamental rights; the 4th amendment,” said Adams. “The government can’t just come into your home.”
OKC Animal Welfare tells us they are going to take a second look at their policy, and re-visit the protocol of removing animals without consent or search warrant.