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Linda Kellett - Patrol cars and the vehicles of local shelter and/or pet rescue association representatives are parked alongside this barn at 7145 state Route 5S between Airport and Sanders roads in the town of Minden where more than 50 dogs and puppies were removed last week as part of an ongoing investigation by State Police, assisted by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and Fort Plain Police Department.


Minden dog case Owner fights back; charges still pending

Thursday, January 10, 2013 - Updated: 8:44 AM


C-S-E News Staff

MINDEN — Charges are still pending in connection with the mid-week removal of over 50 dogs and puppies from a town of Minden barn over two days last week, but the owner of some of the dogs is fighting back.

That individual, who has been identified in e-mails from animal rights advocates as Joseph Marriott, on Tuesday said that no charges have been filed against him; however, he has been advised by his lawyer, civil rights attorney Elmer Robert “Bob” Keach III of Amsterdam, not to comment on the matter, he said.

Keach on Tuesday afternoon said, “I have been told people are going to be charged. I looked over the Agriculture and Markets Law and believe the way the animals were housed complies” with the regulations. He acknowledged that is open to interpretation, however.

The owners of the dogs are trying to get their animals back, Keach said.

Trooper Mark Cepiel, the Troop G public information officer for the New York State Police, on Tuesday confirmed that no arrests had yet been made in the case, which stemmed from numerous recent complaints received by State Police, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and the Fort Plain Police Department about the canines’ reported living conditions.

Officials from the three agencies responded to 7145 state Route 5S on Jan. 2 to execute a search warrant at the barn. The last of the canines was removed from the premises by 9 p.m. the next night, State Police said late last week.

Most of the dogs were of the pit bull breed.

“Investigators are still sorting through the evidence,” Cepiel said on Tuesday. “Several people are involved with the property.”

A dozen of the dogs removed from that location reportedly belong to a Fort Plain man who was arrested during a mid-December drug sweep by Fort Plain Police.

Fort Plain Police Chief Robert Thomas last week said Timothy M. Hart, 29, who was arrested in early December in connection with his alleged possession and sale of drugs, had a little kennel on Reid Street. When he was incarcerated, care for the dogs allegedly fell to his mother, Karen Sweet. Sweet was subsequently arrested because she wasn’t caring for the animals properly, Thomas alleged.

“We realized that the water and food was insufficient,” he said.

Thomas continued, “[Sweet] told the judge she’d move the animals to a place on Route 5S. We were told the animals would be confined in a house.”

He said those animals were placed there late last week.

In a follow-up visit, officials “realized what the conditions were,” Thomas said, noting that State Police removed the dogs Wednesday during the day, “right away, as a result of a court order.”

As noted in a late-week news release from State Police, officials executing the search warrant allegedly found uninhabitable conditions in the barn, which contained dogs suffering from “various health-related issues including frostbite, open sores and worms.”

The alleged conditions included “an unheated and element-exposed structure, frozen water, a deceased canine, and many of the canines lying in fecal matter,” State Police reported.

Keach, who successfully represented a relative of the dogs’ owner in a strip-search suit against the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office that was settled in 2006, maintained that the deceased canine did not die as a result of neglect. He said, “Our understanding is one dog harmed the other.”

When asked about Keach’s involvement with the case, Cepiel said, “It’s part of an ongoing investigation, so I won’t get into the particulars.”

As a civil rights attorney, Keach said his first question would be why the owners haven’t had an opportunity to ask why their property was taken away. A second would be if they’ll be able to get their 40-some animals back.

“When it became an issue, they were in the process of fixing the building,” Keach alleged. “Then [police] come in and take away their dogs, and [the owners] don’t get a chance to challenge” the removal.

Some of the dogs have been in the family for seven or eight years, he added.

Keach continued, “The dogs had appropriate licenses and all their shots. The claims that the dogs were not fed or watered is false. It certainly was cold in the barn, but the dogs were provided with adequate materials to burrow into to keep warm.”

While Minden Dog Control Officer and Rabies Response Agent James Brownell declined to comment on the ongoing investigation last week, Montgomery County Undersheriff Jeff Smith said deputies and the dog control officer had been at that location prior to Wednesday night’s dog seizure.

Smith said, “We had been there and said his licensing and rabies vaccinations were OK, but we were still investigating” the sheltering conditions. He said the animals had food and water.

Under New York State Agriculture and Markets regulations, Smith said a breeder must provide each animal with individual housing with hay bedding.

Specifically, the Ag and Markets regulations stipulate that animals under the care of pet breeders should be housed in structurally-sound, sufficiently-spaced “primary enclosures or cages,” maintained in good repair to contain and protect the animal from injury.

Further, it stipulates that surfaces “shall have an impervious surface so as not to permit the absorption of fluids and which can be thoroughly and repeatedly cleaned and disinfected without retaining odors.”

Additionally, the housing facilities must be “adequately ventilated at all times to provide for the health and well-being of the animal. Ventilation shall be provided by natural or mechanical means”; and the “temperature shall be regulated by heating and cooling to sufficiently protect each animal from extremes of temperature and shall not be permitted to fall below or rise above ranges which would pose a health hazard to the animal.”

Smith said the main objective was “to get the dogs in safe, secure housing.”

Keach said he’s waiting for the charges to be filed, then he’s going to “come in and defend these charges.”

He continued, “This case is not a slam-dunk by the prosecutor. A lot of people have one dog that gets housed inside and treated very well... Just because these dogs weren’t treated in that way doesn’t mean there’s any illegality.”

Keach alleged that the manner of the canines’ treatment was not illegal under Agriculture and Markets Law. “It’s a question of whether or not the conditions in that barn with each and every dog met the standards of [Ag and Markets Law] in the way they were kept. Legally, they could’ve been housed outside. It’s perfectly appropriate to have a dog housed outside in upstate New York in winter. The owner needs to provide appropriate shelter,” he said.

“These dogs were sheltered inside with appropriate care that met the standards,” Keach maintained.

Currently, the dogs are being cared for by a number of shelters and agencies that were contacted for assistance in housing the animals on a temporary basis. All animals were checked by a veterinarian prior to their removal from the premises, State Police indicated last week.

An Ayres Memorial Animal Shelter employee last week confirmed that some of the canines have been taken there, however shelter representatives early this week declined to comment or to allow photographs.

There is no information yet available as to when or if these animals will be available for adoption, State Police said last week.

A Facebook page reportedly linked to the operation has since been taken down: Sickpuppyz Pitbull Kennels (, which listed 7145 state Highway 5S, Fort Plain, as its business address, joined Facebook on Dec. 19, 2011.

The Facebook page had more than a half dozen photo galleries. Some of the images depicted what appeared to be healthy dogs, some of which were interacting with people.

Other albums displayed chained-up animals housed in a dark area (presumably the barn), in a yard with dog houses and short runs, or in fenced-in wire pens.

An untitled album loaded about four months ago displayed a chained, emaciated female nursing a number of puppies.

The site contained numerous recent posts by animal lovers who condemned the breeder and his operation.

Another recent poster wrote: “You should rot in [expletive]. Animals aren’t property, they have needs and emotions like people do...”

Others wrote profanities and insults.

Additionally, a man named Edward Smathers, who has apparent ties to an animal rights group, claimed in an e-mail to this publication that a puppy purchased from the breeder was “severely ill and contagious due to its environment. It had to be quarantined.”

Tammy and Russell Van Valkenburg, who live on one side of the barn in which the canines were housed, said they’ve heard yelping and barking since the residents moved there last February; and on several occasions, they said they were frightened by a couple of their neighbor’s loose pit bulls who were sitting in front of their trailer window, upsetting their dog.

On one occasion, Russell said he went to the barn to talk to the dogs’ owner. He described the scene as “wall-to-wall and stall-to-stall dogs.”

Tammy, who claimed they had complained to officials about the neighbors’ dogs in the past, said, “My question is, Why didn’t the dog warden do anything?”


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