Ex-puppy mill owner suspected of setting own home ablaze

FERNDALE Wash. -- A convicted puppy mill owner has been arrested for investigation of arson following a suspicious fire at his own home on Wednesday.

Firefighters responded to the fire at Kenneth Cassell's home, located in the 7100 block of W. 40th St., at around 11 a.m. The fast-moving flames gutted a section of the home before they were extinguished.

The cause of the fire has not been determined; however, Whatcom County deputies said the blaze may have been intentionally set. Public records show the home was set to be sold in a foreclosure auction on Friday.

Deputies said they found a note tacked to the barn, indicating the homeowner had sold everything he owned -- one of several clues that indicated Cassell might hurt himself or others. Neighbors also warned deputies, they said.

"The resident may or may not be there and that he was thinking of maybe harming himself," said Lt. Scott Rossmiller with the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office. "That made them - the fire response - nervous."

A SWAT team searched the home for Cassell, but he was instead later found in downtown Bellingham. Cassell was questioned, then booked into jail for investigation of arson.

No one was hurt in the fire and no animals were found on the property.

Cassell was convicted of three counts of animal cruelty in the second degree after Whatcom Humane Society seized 48 miniature Australian Shepherd dogs from a locked barn behind his home in April 2012.

WHS director Laura Clark said the dogs were living in conditions that can only be described as "squalid and inhumane." She said many of the dogs were filthy, had matted fur and overgrown nails and were covered with feces.

He was sentenced to 10 days in jail and banned from owning an animal ever again, according to the Bellingham Herald.

Deputies said Cassell, during conversations with neighbors, had mentioned that he was upset about his dogs being seized and that he was angry with the court and the Whatcom Humane Society.

"He's known to have weapons," Rossmiller said. "Obviously that's not against the law. Some of the concern was whether he's in the frame of mind where he might try to hurt himself or other people. That was literally the unknown we were dealing with."

Cassell is due in court for his first appearance in the alleged arson case Thursday afternoon.