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Court Orders Mason to Give up Dogs

Posted on Dec 1, 2006 - 9:29 AM
Court orders man to give up dogs

November 29, 2006

By PATRICK McARDLE Herald Staff

BENNINGTON — A judge has ordered a New Hampshire man who was driving to the western U.S. in a school bus with 32 German shepherds to give up ownership of the dogs because they were living in unsanitary conditions.

Bennington County District Court Judge David Howard, in a ruling issued Tuesday, said the conditions under which Larry Mason, 52, kept the dogs were unacceptable.

"The bus was not clean, even when it is judged as a habitat for dogs. The evidence … shows an enclosure with excretions, dirt and urine traces that would demonstrate either a lack of periodic cleanings or totally inadequate cleanings," Howard wrote.

His decision brought to an end a forfeiture hearing held prior to the resolution of animal cruelty charges Mason faces.

During the hearing, Mason's public defender Frederick Bragdon had asked the court to consider whether Mason could keep some of the dogs, but the judge ordered all the dogs be forfeited.

Bragdon has said he plans to file an appeal with the Vermont Supreme Court because he believes part of the current statutes on animal forfeiture is unconstitutional.

As Vermont law now reads, even if a defendant appeals the court's decision, the forfeiture continues to move forward.

In his decision, Howard said the state had not made a sufficient case that all of the dogs were deprived of water and only for about 20 of the dogs was there sufficient evidence the dogs had been underfed. But the conditions on the bus, Howard said, applied to all of the dogs.

"Even those few described as somewhat cleaner or less dirty than the others were still subjected to the same unsanitary conditions. Simply because they emerged a little better off than the others does not relieve the defendant of the finding that the bus was an unsanitary place for all of the animals…," Howard wrote.

Bennington County Deputy State's Attorney Andrew Costello, who argued the state's case at the forfeiture hearing, said he planned to file paperwork with the court today asking the dogs be placed in the custody of Bennington Animal Control Officer Christine Crawford.

"Frankly, I can't wait," Crawford said on Tuesday. "These dogs have suffered enough. That's all they've done their whole life is suffer."

Crawford said people have volunteered to provide homes for the dogs, but before any of the dogs are placed, she must get an order of custody from the state. After that, Crawford said, the German shepherds would be spayed and neutered. Only then would prospective owners be screened, she said.

Because the dogs have not been properly socialized, Crawford said, they're still very fearful and can't be given away to just any person with good intentions.

Mason came to the attention of the Bennington police department on July 18 when someone reported unattended dogs on a school bus at a local diner. After police arrived and spoke to Mason, they learned that Mason had 32 dogs he was planning to take with him on a cross-country trip.

Mason said he was planning to find a small town in the western United States in need of a church minister.

Mason told police he'd had encounters with the law and with other government officials in New Hampshire over his large collection of German shepherds.

He also said he knew and loved each of the dogs, but police and animal control officials said the dogs were living on a hot bus with insufficient food and water and unsanitary conditions.

Mason has been charged with two misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals. Jury selection is scheduled to begin next week. Costello said if the case proceeds, it is likely to go to trial in January.

"I hope the judge's decision will bring the pending case to a resolution quicker than it would've if Mr. Mason still owned some or all of the dogs," Costello said.

A call to Bragdon's home on Tuesday was not immediately returned.

Bragdon said previously he was concerned some of the dogs may be euthanized and all would be spayed or neutered against Mason's wishes. Even if his client won his appeal, Bragdon pointed out, Mason could not get the dogs back as they were.

Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd said Howard's decision was good news for the town and local veterinarians who have volunteered to board the dogs. Hurd estimated the town will have spent about $22,000 on feeding and boarding the animals.

Hurd said he also believed some of the dogs may have to be euthanized, but Crawford said that might not be the case. Many of the dogs were becoming healthier than she expected and putting on weight.

Crawford said people who had provided temporary homes for the dogs had become very attached and wanted to keep some of them.

"I'm not sure I'm not going to take one myself," she said.

Contact Patrick McArdle at Patrick.mcardle@rutlandherald.com.




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