100+ animal cruelty, neglect charges filed against Beaver County woman

BEAVER FALLS, Pa. — There are dozens of ducks and chickens roaming free at Kindred Spirits Rescue Ranch.

“They are wonderful, energetic, happy they are just doing really well,” said Lisa Marie Sopko, who runs the ranch.

But that was the case when Sopko got the 50 chickens and nine ducks.

“We lost three that were caked in feces it was cemented to their feathers and they couldn’t survive the disease from that,” Sopko said.

See some of the animals that were rescued and are now being cared for.

Those animals came from a home on 13th Avenue in Beaver Falls. They all lived inside with Leah Fontanez, whose attorney tells Channel 11 her neighbors called the cops on her and her animals.

“According to Leah, when humane officers arrived it was between changing times and feeding times and she says officers were there on previous occasions and there was none of that,” said Blaine Jones, who is Fontanez’s attorney.

According to the criminal complaint, the chickens and ducks were defecating in their food. There were nine dogs and puppies without water and clean areas. Then there was a bearded dragon living under the same conditions.

The Humane Society charged Fontanez with 139 animal cruelty and neglect charges including felonies for the dead chickens.

“Once they were taken from my client then they died so as for chain of custody it seems there was another place they died,” Jones said.

At her preliminary hearing this week, Jones fought those charges. He got a number of the charges dropped, including the felonies, and reduced the costs to board the animals, which, at the time, amounted to $65,000. Now she is only facing fewer than two dozen misdemeanor charges.

“Leah I talked to her today and she just wanted everyone to know she maintains her innocence and loves her animals and is looking forward to her day in court,” Jones said.

Meantime, those animals are being nurtured by various groups across the county who tell Channel 11 this isn’t the first case and it won’t be the last they see.

“Unfortunately we see a lot of them and it is heartbreaking. A lot of people don’t see farm animals and ducks and chickens have the same feelings as dogs and cats but they really are no different than any other animal,” Fontanez said.

The formal arraignment is scheduled for late December, with the trial starting in March of next year.