NH Great Dane Trial: Sentencing - Day 2
No Jail Time Served, Dogs Can Be Rehomed
363 days since the seizure of the Wolfeboro Great Danes, the Superior Court sentence hearings came to an end. During the second hearing on June 14th, Superior Court Judge Ignatius finalized Christina Fay's sentence for her 17 convictions of animal cruelty.
1. First Conviction
12 Month Sentence / Fully Suspended
2. Remaining 16 Convictions
12 Month Sentence / Per Charge / Fully Suspended / Served Concurrently
On May 11th, the sentence for the first conviction was 12 months with 9 months suspended and 90 days served. Judge Ignatius stated, “If there is a proposal for some sort of counseling program that is acceptable to the court, ... I would consider further suspending 60 of those days, but the 30 days are to be served.” However, the judge went back on that final statement on June 14th and fully suspended the sentence.
Defense Counsel Kent Barker advised the court that Ms. Fay's son died in an accident on May 2nd and that she's providing financial support to his newborn and the child's mother, along with an additional grandchild living in a shelter with the Defendant's daughter. Attorney James Cowles also expressed that Ms. Fay has another son who receives daily care due to a mental illness, which requires funding. Cowles stated that granting the restitution recommended by the State would drain those much-needed resources.
While those family matters are disheartening, as were the horrific cruelties suffered by over 80 Great Danes while in the custody of the Defendant, including inadequate treatment for injuries, open wounds and diseases, lack of water and sanitary shelter. There was also trial evidence that the Defendant was responsible for that lack of care despite her financial capability of providing it.
Although the Defense asserted it was Ms. Fay's financial assistance needed by her family, and not necessarily her presence, it impacted the judge's determination regarding time served.
The judge expressed that Ms. Fay is dealing with a lot in her life, has many people to tend to, and 90 days served would be too disruptive to other people as well as herself. There was no further mention of the 30 days to be served.
Judge Ignatius stated, "In light of the willingness to engage in meaningful therapy, ... I am willing to suspend all of the time." A statement that was immediately followed by a very audible gasp from those sitting in the courtroom.
All animals are deserving of humanity; non-human and human alike. While we do not wish to deny a person of counseling nor support to family members, considering the 17 convictions of cruelty in this case, the lack of time served is a grave injustice for the Great Danes.
3. Period of Suspension and Rehabilitation Program
The suspension period is 5 years and is contingent upon 'good behavior,' adherence to the other aspects of the sentence, as well as the Defendant's active and meaningful participation in a counseling program, two times per month, with mandatory reports of her compliance to the court.
4. Future Animal Ownership - Defense Requests 5 Dogs
The sentence includes a limit of 1 animal owned, spayed/neutered for 5 years, starting upon the first date of the sentence.
The Defense requested that the court grant five dogs to Ms. Fay, including Harazah (shown in image), who she took to the vet for semen collections at least 17 times within approximately one year, during which he was also likely suffering from inadequately treated ailments, based on trial evidence. Also among the dogs requested was Hamlet, who the Defense stated is a "sought after dog," and if adopted, they "can’t guarantee that he’s not going to be bred by somebody else and Ms. Fay would like to protect him..;" a rather hypocritical notion considering the circumstances.
The prosecution came from the standpoint that the sentence already given included limited ownership of one animal and that dogs subjected to cruelty should not be returned to the Defendant convicted of that crime. Rightfully, Judge Ignatius denied the Defense's request.
$18,682.88 to the Wolfeboro Police Department
$1,953,606 to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
The Defense asserted that the HSUS's cost to care for the dogs was unreasonable. However, the Defense's proposal for rehoming the Great Danes includes a boarding/dog training facility that charges a rate of $80 per dog/per day.
Prosecutor Briden pointed out, "The HSUS has managed this case for $68 [per dog] per day at their facility."
Briden added that at the HSUS shelter, “They provide enrichment, they provide training, these animals are walked, they’re provided the type of training that’s gonna help them be able to find a new home at the end of the day. These dogs aren’t sitting at a kennel being boarded by somebody while they’re on vacation for two days."
The Great Danes were also in need of medical treatment for injuries, ailments, and diseases, and have various special needs, which are all considerably expensive.
The Defense also requested a reduction from the restitution for food donations received by the HSUS, as well as for the travel expenses of the volunteers who cared for the dogs at the emergency shelter.
Regarding the food donations, while goodwill is genuinely appreciated, not all could be used. Briden stated, "Not every dog can eat the generic food that gets donated. Some dogs have special diets..."
As for the travel expenses for shelter volunteers, it is noteworthy that local shelters were unable to house the Great Danes due to the sheer number of them and their large size. Additionally, it would pose a risk to spread the dogs out over several shelters due to their contagious illnesses, and the complexities of being part of a cruelty case.
The HSUS had to essentially create an emergency shelter from scratch to specifically care for the Great Danes, under the guidance of veterinary professionals, and by qualified caregivers.
"When we say volunteer, this is a criminal case. So there is a higher level," said Prosecutor Briden. "The people that are brought into this situation have specialized training ... they’re handling evidence and they’re handling large animals that require specific training in order to be properly handled..."
Briden additionally explained that the HSUS made every effort to find as many local people who were qualified and available before expanding out of the state.
Also confirmed for the judge was that there is no hourly wage component for the volunteers, as they are willing to fly in and receive no compensation for their work, just reimbursement for travel.
Briden later added, “The HSUS has between 14-15 volunteers in that shelter every day. If they were charging salaries for all that staff, the restitution would be significantly higher.”
Judge Ignatius rejected the Defense's notion that a reduction should be made for donations and the travel expenses. “If people are needed to care for the dogs … they need to get there," she said. “If there are kinds of people you need in terms of their availability, their expertise, their knowledge, and credentials are greater than what you find locally, then you have to do what you have to do." She then added, "It is a false argument to say, yes the person being there is okay, but to pay them for being there is not okay.”
6. Forfeiture and Rehoming the Great Danes
The sentence requires full forfeiture of the dogs; granting the State custody of all the Great Danes. The only exception being the one dog returned to the Defendant last December as part of the District Court ruling. Judge Ignatius requested that both parties submit a rehoming proposal to the court for the remaining dogs.
The Defense proposed that Nancy Fantom of Saddleback Pet Services (Northwood, NH), is granted authority to conduct the adoption process for the dogs. Defense Counsel James Cohen expressed that Ms. Fantom has her own network of local people she could use to find them local homes and she would have a thorough vetting process.
However, Cohen confirmed that the dogs would have to stay at the HSUS shelter during that process, as Ms. Fantom is incapable of housing all the Great Danes at once.
Prosecutor Briden stated that their placement proposal is quite lengthy as it provides in-depth information, from the exceptional qualifications required of the HSUS's Emergency Placement Partners, to an example adoption application that would be used as part of their comprehensive vetting process within their proposed adoption plan.
Briden also expressed that it's always preferable to find local homes, but in the event that they're unable to do so within Carroll County, the HSUS has the capability of expanding out nationally if necessary to find the most suitable homes for each dog.
After considering the proposals from both parties, Judge Ignatius stated, "I find the State’s proposal to be far more specific and more realistic in the ability to manage the number of dogs … they have a mechanism in place and tremendous experience…" The Judge granted custody to the State, and allowance to the HSUS to manage the adoption process.
Judge Ignatius had many rehoming conditions, including some of the following:
No placement is to be made with Ms. Fay, nor with any person, organization or entity that is affiliated with her.
No dogs are to be euthanized for failure to locate an adoption placement
If a dog has not been placed in 90 days, the State must notify the court
All animals must be spayed/neutered
A Bright Future Ahead For The Great Danes
At the end of sentencing, Attorney Barker advised the court that the Defendant would be filing an appeal to the Supreme Court, but that the appeal would not include the forfeiture of the dogs. This means that as of now, the State and the HSUS have been cleared to begin their comprehensive and intensively vetted adoption process.
Although many are disappointed by the lack of time served in this case, there is still some justice to be found here for the dogs.
The truth of the cruelties endured by the Wolfeboro Great Danes was told two times in a court of law, and at the conclusion of both the District and Superior Court trials, the person responsible for that cruelty was convicted.
We also cannot help but feel overjoyed that the Great Danes can begin their journey towards finding new homes. Although they have been provided with care at the HSUS shelter since their rescue from abhorrent conditions last year, nothing compares to a forever home. And after waiting their entire lives for that chance, it seems it finally has been granted to them.
(Image: Wolfeboro Great Dane, Ralph who has been living at the HSUS emergency shelter, "loves exploring the outdoors and running around the yard"/HSUS)
It is noteworthy that based on Attorney Barker's words, it was left unclear as to whether or not the Defendant's appeal would include custody of the five dogs they requested (see #4. above). However, the judge's written sentencing order does not refer to that fact and reiterates that while other parts of the sentence are stayed (put on hold) pending the appeal, the forfeiture of the dogs, which includes those five, is noted as being permanent and effective June 14, 2018.
As to what lies ahead regarding the appeal, and whether or not the Defense will attempt to regain custody of any of the dogs, will be answered for certain once it is received in writing by the Supreme Court.
In the meantime, the adoption process is indeed underway as so ordered by the Superior Court, and we can take a moment of happiness as we imagine the Great Danes' future of being welcomed with open arms and the immense amounts of love and care they deserve, by their new forever and perfectly fitting family members.