Derry Humane Society Fights For Custody of Two Dogs Recovering From Cruelty
The Greater Derry Humane Society has filed a petition with the NH Superior Court to fight for the custody of two dogs that were seized from an owner charged with animal cruelty; a battle leaving the non-profit animal rescue at a financial loss, which is now accepting vital donations.
Arrest and Seizure of 33 Animals Due to Cruelty
On October 16, 2015, the Derry Police Department executed a search warrant on the property of Kristina Gaines, based on probable cause of animal cruelty. With the assistance of a Derry Animal Control Officer (ACO), a veterinarian and a NH SPCA animal cruelty investigator, several animals were found on the property, most of which appeared to be in poor health and living in deplorable conditions.
The property reportedly did not have heat, electricity, or hot water and was covered in urine and feces. Among the animals found were six cats, one guinea pig, one iguana, three pigeons, two cockatoos, 17 chickens and one horse, which were all seized, and Gaines was charged with five counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty.
Gaines surrendered each of those animals, and they were taken into custody by the NH SPCA.
Additionally on the property were three dogs, which were not included in the cruelty charges filed, but were also seized by the ACO.
One of the dogs, which was not owned by Gaines, was also later surrendered to the NH SPCA. The two remaining dogs, one cockapoo named Alice, and one lab mix named Anzlo, were not surrendered by Gaines but because they were seized, they were taken to the Greater Derry Humane Society, followed by foster homes while the trial was pending, which is where they have since lived in peace.
According to the Greater Derry Humane Society, upon initial arrival, both dogs were infested with fleas, had worms, and suffered from skin problems. Anzlo had no fur on and around his tail, and Alice had ear infections which appeared to have been untreated for an extended period, as well as urine burns on her rump and hind legs.
That information seemingly justifies the ACO's decision to seize the dogs. However, it is unclear as to why the dogs were excluded from the cruelty charges; a fact that has had a negative impact on Alice and Anzlo, whose future now remains unknown.
Defendant's History Of Animal Cruelty
The 2015 case wasn't the first time Gaines was arrested for animal cruelty. In 2013 she was charged for leaving two dogs; one pit bull mix and one cocker spaniel, in a parked truck while she shopped at Market Basket on a 95°F summer afternoon. According to surveillance cameras, the dogs were in the truck for 20 minutes. A parked vehicle in that environment, for that time frame, can reach up to 124°F.
Thankfully, law enforcement was notified and arrived in time to prevent the death of the animals. Gaines was charged with two counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty, one of which was dropped. She did not dispute guilt of the other, which resulted in a monetary fine of $310, and she was allowed to keep the animals.
Animal Cruelty Charges Dismissed
The charges filed in 2013 and 2015 demonstrate a potential pattern of animal cruelty by the Defendant. However, she did not face a trial, nor sentencing for her arrest in 2015, as following two evaluations conducted by the Office of the Forensic Examiner, she was found incompetent and not restorable.
Not competent means that the individual does not have a reasonable understanding of court proceedings or the charges filed against them, nor the sufficient ability to consult with their lawyer; thus are unfit to stand trial. Not restorable implies that future competency is not possible for that individual even with treatment.
In light of Gaines being found incompetent upon evaluation in 2016 and not restorable in 2017, District Court Judge Lucinda Sadler dismissed the charges in July 2017.
That dismissal allowed Gaines freedom without a trial, leaving the animal cruelty charges in limbo, along with the custody status of Alice and Anzlo.
State's Petition For Permanent Custody
On July 11, 2017, the State filed a petition with the District Court requesting permanent custody of the two dogs.
In what the Defense has since asserted was in violation of the courts ruling to seal the evaluations conducted by the Office of the Forensic Examiner, the State referred to the following statement made by Dr. James Bomersback within the restoration evaluation.
"Regarding the defendant's expressed goals of adopting animals again in the future, this evaluator has strong concerns about her ability to care for animals in her home ... her mental health condition remains largely untreated, and she appears to have poor insight into the expense and responsibility that comes with owning and caring for an animal as a result of this illness. If she takes on the responsibility of caring for animals herself, it remains likely that she could face additional animal cruelty charges in the future"
The State argued that the "value of these animal's lives must overshadow any ownership rights the Defendant has."
Judge Grants Defendant Custody
According to the court's ruling on the petition, custody recommendations "strayed beyond the perimeters of the evaluation." Judge Sadler referred to a statement by Dr. Bomersback in which he specifically advised the Defendant before the evaluation began that he was meeting with her "to conduct a court-ordered evaluation of her competency to proceed."
The Judge found that there wasn't justification to consider the Dr.'s opinion made within the evaluation regarding custody and that Gaines was not adequately prepared to challenge it. Combined with the fact that the charges filed didn't include the dogs, and Gaines never surrendered them, Judge Sadler ruled against the petition in December 2017, granting Gaines immediate custody of the dogs.
A frustrating and disheartening situation, as it undoubtedly would not be in the dogs' best interest to be pulled away from loving homes where they've received appropriate care for over two years, to return them to someone charged with animal cruelty, deemed incompetent and not restorable, as well as determined unable to properly care for animals, and who has the risk of committing future acts of cruelty.
Greater Derry Humane Society Fights For Alice and Anzlo
Although Judge Sadler's ruling was hard-hitting, the Greater Derry Humane Society has not given up on Alice and Anzlo. In January 2018, the Greater Derry Humane Society, along with Diane Lajoie (foster mother of Alice), and All 4 Paws Pet Sitting, LLC. (current home of Anzlo), filed a petition with the Rockingham Superior Court.
The petition requests permanent custody of the dogs citing the Defendant's inability to provide proper care and the likelihood of future acts of animal cruelty, based on the conditions they were found in, as well as the evaluation conducted by Dr. Bomersback. If the Greater Derry Humane Society is not granted custody, they're requesting cost of care reimbursement from the Defendant, including medical expenses and daily care over the past two years. Alice has limited sight and hearing, and both dogs require special diets, which pose additional cost and care needs. The petition also requests a temporary restraining order for continued custody of the dogs up until and throughout the court proceedings.
Last month, Rockingham County Superior Court Judge Marguerite Wageling granted the temporary restraining order for the continuation of custody by the Greater Derry Humane Society, and the dogs will remain in their foster homes while proceedings continue. The remainder of the petition will be ruled upon following a future hearing date.
The future for Alice, the 16-year old cockapoo, and Anzlo, a 6-year-old lab mix, who have both shown incredible resilience despite their past, remains unknown. Yet, a small glimmer of hope lies in the Superior Court's ruling thus far, and as the Greater Derry Humane Society, Diane Lajoie and All 4 Paws Pet Sitting, LLC. continue to provide a strong voice for the voiceless.
Cost of Care - Financial Burden Weighs Heavy on Humane Society
As if the situation is not challenging enough, the expenses incurred by the Greater Derry Humane Society have been adding up quickly.
When animals are seized as part of cruelty cases in NH, the individual charged with animal cruelty does not have the legal responsibility to cover the cost to care for the animals while the case is being prosecuted. That financial burden falls on humane societies, welfare organizations, and local taxpayers, an issue that a potential law recently introduced into NH legislature aims to rectify.
Although this case is unique, the Defendant still has not paid towards the care of the dogs since the seizure. The cost to care for Alice and Anzlo exceeded $25,000 as of December 2017, with additional legal fees from January and February of 2018, totaling $3,773.39.
The Greater Derry Humane Society, which is a 100% volunteer based and non-profit animal rescue, has set up a 'Go Fund Me' fundraiser to accept much-needed donations, which will help them continue to fight for Alice and Anzlo; two amazing dogs that are well deserving of forever love and adequate care.