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Originally published November 20, 2009 at 4:34 PM | Page modified November 20, 2009 at 9:56 PM

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Pair pleads guilty in puppy-mill cruelty case

Jason and Serenna Larsen, whose January arrests exposed a two-county puppy mill with hundreds of dogs living in squalid conditions, pleaded guilty Friday to six counts each of first-degree animal cruelty.

Times Snohomish County reporter

Raw video | Puppy mill raid

The couple whose January arrest exposed a two-county puppy mill with hundreds of dogs living in squalid conditions pleaded guilty Friday to six counts each of first-degree animal cruelty.

Jason and Serenna Larsen, of Sultan, admitted in Snohomish County Superior Court that they had starved or dehydrated six dogs and as a result caused substantial pain and suffering. Deputies had seized 160 puppies and breeding dogs, many emaciated and without adequate food or water, from a Gold Bar home.

After the brief court hearing, Jason Larsen's lawyer, Gabe Rothstein, characterized the couple, both 38, as "indentured servants" working as employees who were left "underequipped" to care for such a large number of dogs.

But prosecuting attorney Jarett Goodkin said the defendants were "certainly aware of what they were doing." Goodkin said he will seek a 12-month sentence for each defendant. Neither has a criminal record.

The Larsens' arrests led to the seizure of another 340 puppies and dogs in Mount Vernon, many also lying in their own excrement. Both operations were tied to Snohomish kennel owner Renee Roske.

The raids also revealed the lucrative and mostly unregulated business of breeding designer dogs. Many of the seized dogs were small toy breeds such as shih tzu and miniature terriers. The resulting public outcry prompted the state Legislature in April to pass limits on the number of dogs any one owner can keep.

The case came to light after Snohomish County sheriff's deputies received a tip last January that the Larsens were raising dogs in crowded and filthy conditions. The 160 puppies were found caged or in plywood pens in virtually every room of the house.

Sheriff's deputies said they could smell the stench of urine and feces from outside the house. A search also turned up the bodies of four puppies wrapped in plastic grocery bags in a freezer.

Jason Larsen told the press after his arrest that he was raising dogs for Roske, whose Snohomish kennel had a history of violations with county animal control over the past decade. Roske has not been charged with any crime. The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office said it's continuing to investigate and that the Internal Revenue Service also is looking into the case.

Deputies estimated that the business could have brought in more than $1 million each year.

The Gold Bar house was owned by Mary Ann Holleman, Roske's sister. The Skagit County home, where 460 dogs also were seized in January, was owned by Roske's parents, Marjorie and Richard Sundberg. The Sundbergs face multiple felony animal-cruelty charges in Skagit County.

Most of the rescued dogs recovered and were adopted by local families, although shelter officials said the dogs faced a life of medical challenges because of their poor condition.

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At Friday's court hearing, Rose Adams, a representative of several animal-rescue groups, called the Larsens' role in the puppy mills "horrifying."

"To you and I, a dog is like a family member. To them, they were a commodity," she said.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com

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