A legal fight between a Moorestown woman and Burlington County animal welfare workers ended in Municipal Court on Wednesday when 66 charges were dismissed.
The charges - 33 criminal and 33 civil - against Kate Decker alleged that she neglected her dogs, because some did not have water. Investigators also said some stacked crates did not have a barrier between the top and bottom, as required by law.
Decker, 69, a widow, cares for rescued animals, mostly dogs, in her home and garage. She keeps more rescues in the nearby home of her late parents. Usually, she said, she takes care of 24 dogs with the help of others.
Had Decker been found guilty of all charges, she could have faced $66,000 in fines. She has insisted the charges were fabricated after a complaint in October 2012.
"It has never been about the animals. It has always been about the money," Decker said, alleging that the Burlington County SPCA was an operation with little oversight. "What they did is terrorism."
Decker, a retired New York public relations executive, had been a well-respected equestrian trainer. Over the last 30 years, she also established herself as a dog trainer who turned stray pit bulls into therapy dogs she took to nursing homes.
Moorestown Municipal Prosecutor Mark Tarantino on Wednesday withdrew the charges with prejudice, meaning they cannot be refiled.
"It's a relief, but it doesn't make it right," Decker said of prosecution that was costly to defend and that included several offers to plea-bargain. "They kept doing this to break me. I'd sooner put a bullet to my head than to give them anything."
Cheryl Mosca, deputy chief and treasurer of the SPCA, said she was satisfied with the disposition.
Mosca said that officials had received an anonymous complaint about Decker's dogs and that Decker was never unfairly targeted.
The charges were withdrawn, Mosca said, after the prosecutor and investigators decided Decker's intent involving the allegations about her dogs were "not malicious, and there was no sign of neglect or that the overall well-being of the animals was jeopardized."
Initially, an officer went to Decker's house in October 2012. Decker said the officer forced her way in; Mosca said Decker allowed entry.
Decker said the officer asked to see veterinary records and so she went to retrieve them from another room. The officer left after reviewing them, Decker said.
Several days later, Decker said, she noticed a gold watch was gone. She filed a theft complaint, alleging the animal welfare officer was the only one who had entered the house between the last time she saw the watch and when it disappeared.
Decker alleges Mosca and a team of other officers retaliated with a search warrant in December 2012.
Decker's attorney, Justin Loughry, said his client had a long list of neighbors, experts, and workers ready to testify on her behalf.
"It has been an honor to represent her," Loughry said Wednesday. "I think Kate Decker is a person of heart and mind. She is very dignified and generous, and truly loves her pets."