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  • Writer's pictureGina Scrofano

NH Great Dane Trial: Sentencing - Day 1

Updated: Jun 15, 2018

Following a guilty verdict on 17 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty by a Carroll County Superior Court jury, the Defendant faced the first of two sentence hearings on May 11th. On that day, Judge Amy L. Ignatius sentenced Christina Fay to the following:

1. First Conviction

12 Month Jail Sentence, 9 Months Suspended / 3 Months Served

2. Remaining 16 Convictions

12 Months Suspended Sentence, per charge, to follow consecutively after the first year (#1), but served concurrently (simultaneously).

There is a 5-year suspension period that comes along with the sentence, which will start upon the first date of time served. If 'good behavior' is not demonstrated during that 5 years, the court will have the authority to remove the suspension, requiring that the full sentence is served (#1 and #2), likely equaling two years in jail.

3. Future Animal Ownership

Only one animal owned, spayed/neutered for 5 years, starting upon the first date of time served.

Many believe that time frame should be longer, if not matching that of the District Court ruling, which was one animal owned for the rest of the Defendant's life. While that is an understandable perspective, it's important to note that other states may not be aware of, nor have to honor a NH court ruling regarding animal ownership. Meaning, whether the sentence limited ownership to one animal for five years or the rest of her life, the Defendant could potentially move out of NH within that five years or after and own more than one animal. The Prosecution attempted to prevent such a situation from occurring within their sentencing recommendation, as shown below.

4. Restitution

Restitution will be ordered to be paid to the Wolfeboro PD, as well as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS); the organization that created the emergency shelter and has been providing care for the Great Danes since June 16, 2017. The exact amount will be determined on the final date of sentencing.

5. Re-Homing of the Great Danes

The judge asked for recommendations in writing from the Prosecution, as well as the Defense, which she will take under advisement.

If an acceptable arrangement regarding the rehoming of the dogs cannot be agreed upon by the Prosecution and the Defense, Judge Ignatius will require full forfeiture. Such forfeiture will allow the adoption of the Great Danes by appropriate homes through the HSUS' Emergency Placement Partners (EPP), who specifically specialize in placing animals that have been seized as part of cruelty cases in forever homes. (Important note, those adoptions could be prevented if the Defendant files an appeal.)

The Prosecution's Sentencing Recommendations

Before the judges sentencing, the Prosecution made their recommendations. Prosecutor Steven Briden stated, "There were numerous charges that involved medical issues with these dogs, and the jury found that the Defendant's failure to treat or failure to adequately treat those conditions were grounds for convictions of animal cruelty."

"They're uniquely vulnerable. They were totally at the mercy of their caregiver," Briden stated about the Great Danes. "And when their caregiver betrayed the duty and responsibility of care that they owed to those animals, they had no recourse."

The State recommended the following sentence:

  • First Conviction: 12 Month sentence (fully served)

  • Remaining 16 Convictions: 12 Month suspended sentence, served concurrently, with a 5 year suspension

  • $2,000 fine per conviction ($32,000 total)

  • Full restitution to the HSUS, and the town of Wolfeboro

  • Released custody of all dogs, to be rehomed by the HSUS without delay

  • No pet ownership for the rest of the Defendant's life

  • Mandatory copy of sentencing to the municipality where the Defendant resides. (That notification would increase the potential of other states honoring the Defendant's sentencing regarding future animal ownership.)

The Defense's Unusual Sentencing Recommendations

The court approved the Defense's motion to allow Attorney Marshall Pinkus from Indianapolis to appear in court, and it was he that gave the Defense's recommendations.

He started off by stating that the media portrayed Ms. Fay as an 'animal cruelty monster' and that was very damaging and unfair to her.

Also discussed was the love and exceptional care she provided for her six adopted children who cope with mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Ms. Fay also volunteered for charitable organizations, such as the Children's Dream Foundation, the ASPCA, and also worked at the Bronx Zoo.

Discussing the Defendant's history is somewhat appropriate because although it does not change the guilty verdict, it can impact the judges sentencing. However, the remaining majority of Pinkus' statement was unfortunately irrelevant and nonfactual.

Pinkus spoke for approximately 55 minutes. During which, the Judge had to interrupt him at least five times to either advise him that his remarks were irrelevant or false based on the facts of the case, or demand that he provide recommend sentencing, which he simply was not doing.

He stated Ms. Fay's history is not of one who would intentionally harm her dogs, and that intent is necessary for conviction. He said, "Constitutionally, we have to take a look and see if that person developed a mental intent to commit a criminal act."

Judge Ignatius stated, "It sounds to me like your asking me to disregard the jury's verdict here. They evaluated mental intent, and it's not an intentional crime, it's charged as negligence" ... "This isn't appeal of the evidence here; this is what you think the appropriate sentence should be..."

Pinkus went on to state that it's not unlawful to own 80 dogs in NH, that the seizure of the dogs was unconstitutional due to no pre-deprivation hearing, the HSUS deprived the dogs of water for 30 hours the date of the seizure, and that Ms. Fay was willing to allow the dogs to be rehomed but the State refused, then lied about it to mislead the media and the public.

Firstly, as Briden later pointed out, while NH law does not limit the number of dogs one can own, it does include how animals must be treated. NH Law also grants law enforcement the authority to seize animals with probable cause. (RSA 644:8)

Regarding constitutionality, Judge Ignatius stated, "Your arguments may be well received at the NH Supreme Court, but this is a sentencing hearing. I'm not going to find the statute unconstitutional as part of the sentencing hearing."

The judge also corrected Pinkus regarding the matter of rehoming the Great Danes. "I was there, that’s not correct," she said. "The State said we’re willing to consider it if the Defense would give us a proposal." ... “We were told again and again that the Defendant would be producing something and nothing was received.”

As for the assertion that the dogs were not given water by the HSUS for 30 hours, Briden objected stating, "That fact is not in the evidence from the trial, that is a disputed issue." The judge stated, “I agree, that is not a correct statement of what the evidence was.”

It seemed Pinkus was making statements based on misconceptions as opposed to evidence and the facts of the case. It was difficult to determine whether or not Pinkus was truly that unfamiliar with the case, if this was a media stunt for the Defense to save face, or if his lack of providing a recommendation was an attempt to create a reason for an appeal.

Regardless, the judge eventually had to advise Pinkus that at 12pm she was going to issue a sentence and they would have the State's recommendations only if the Defense did not provide theirs.

Even after that, Pinkus continued with irrelevant comments, forcing the judge to once again, ask him to focus on his recommendations.

Finally, the Defense addressed the recommendations:

  • No time served

  • No notification of sentencing to the town where Ms. Fay resides

  • No restitution to the HSUS

  • Disagrees with no animal ownership

  • Disagrees with no future breeding

Although Pinkus stated what they disagree with and do not want included in the sentence, what the Defense believed to be an appropriate sentence was never provided.

The Judge's Sentencing

Following the statements by the Prosecution and the Defense, Judge Ignatius issued the sentence as numbered above. During her sentencing, she explained that she believes the Defendant to be a caring person who loved her children and her dogs, but that the charges were not for a lack of love Ms. Fay had her dogs, rather the negligence for not adequately providing care for them.

Judge Ignatius additionally explained, “What I find tremendously troubling is that as conditions deteriorated and as things were not in a good state, from all of the evidence, there was no effort to step in and try to turn things around in any meaningful way. There was continued bringing dogs in even as you testified that things were getting out of control…"

The judge also expressed that Ms. Fay lacked remorse, and did not acknowledge any responsibility for the situation, stating, "It was a series of other people and other forces that were at fault. It was the press, it was HSUS, it was the police chief, and then it was the police chief's wife's fault somehow for things going wrong, it was employees, it was the neighbors complaining, it was police officers who had ill intent, it was even the 16-year old girl who came in to work and only stayed for the day, it was her fault. It was everyone else's fault and in no way your responsibility."

To address the Defense's motions to overturn the guilty verdict, Judge Ignatius stated, "I have not found any basis on the evidence to overturn the jury’s verdict."..."There was serious deterioration of conditions in that home, and the jury found the dogs suffered as a result.”

Potential Rehabilitation

Judge Ignatius explained that if a Defendant expressed they kept too many animals due to their need to love more than they were capable of caring for, and they needed help to learn limitations on animal ownership, she could craft counseling to help establish boundaries.

The judge stated that the Defendant has not asked for help from the court and that the opposite was argued during this trial. "...A lot of arguing [was made] that her operations were the best in the country and that she was looked up to by, in her view, sort of held out as one of the best operators of Great Dane breeding and her line of dogs was sort of the best, one of the best in the world, I really don’t find much I can do on a rehabilitative function."

Caring for the Great Danes certainly doesn't appear to have been beyond the Defendant's means. According to trial testimony, Ms. Fay paid for herself and veterinarian Kate Battenfelder to take a trip to France in 2016 to examine dogs for potential purchases. Also according to testimony, the Defendant apparently continued such purchases, as an airline dog crate with a delivery date of June 15, 2017, was found on Ms. Fay's property during the seizure.

Ms. Fay also brought at least one of her dogs to the vet for semen collections several times for breeding purposes up until May 2017, according to trial evidence. The Defendant also had a breeder website, social media page and online advertisements for the sale of her AKC certified Great Danes for over $2,000 each, up until her arrest on June 16th.

Following the sentencing, Defense Counsel Kent Barker expressed that not everyone is capable of asking the court for help, that the charges against Ms. Fay are on the cusp of being criminal, and time served is not appropriate for a Defendant without a prior criminal record. He asked the judge to consider rehabilitation as well as community service in the place of incarceration.

Both Prosecutor Briden and Judge Ignatius pointed out that rehabilitation was not included in the Defense's sentencing recommendations, and requesting that after sentencing was inappropriate.

“Why is it that none of this was mentioned before?" Ignatius asked Barker. “I must have asked over and over, at least 5 times today, ‘tell me what you want in a sentence’ and there was no mention of any of that.”

Barker stated, "We have, [the] Defense scheme, tried to coordinate what our arguments are and that hasn't always worked out smoothly." He then added, "I couldn't live with myself if I didn't make the recommendation that I just did."

“I hear what you’re saying," Judge Ignatius responded. "I have to say I’m troubled that you’ve referred to these charges as ‘on the cusp of being criminal.’ I take this statute seriously, and I don’t think Ms. Fay does. And here is an example of what I call a lack of remorse. I don’t get why somehow this keeps being pushed aside as not that important. It is important, it’s important to me, and I don’t accept your efforts, again and again, to somehow minimize it.”

However, following a brief continuation of the discussion, Judge Ignatius expressed willingness to review a rehabilitation/counseling program if submitted in writing by the Defense. If such proposal is acceptable by the court, she is willing to consider including it in sentencing, which could potentially reduce time served to 30 days. The judge reiterated, however, that such an agreement is not guaranteed.

Second Hearing On The Horizon

The second hearing is Thursday, June 14th at 1 pm for the continuation of sentencing. That day could potentially lead the Great Danes to finally finding their forever homes. However, regardless of sentencing, one can't help but brace themselves for another appeal. If there is an appeal, we can only hope that the Defendant lets those dogs go to appropriate homes, so that all involved can move on and start heading on a path towards peace.

Above Image: Great Dane was not involved in the Wolfeboro case.

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