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Jury: Mason Abused Dogs

Posted on Jan 25, 2007 - 9:34 AM
MIKE GLEASON, Staff Writer
Bennington Banner
Article Launched:01/25/2007 03:07:32 AM EST

Thursday, January 25
BENNINGTON A former owner of 32 dogs was found guilty after a one-day trial Wednesday of two counts of depriving animals of proper sanitation and one count of transporting animals in an overcrowded vehicle.
Larry Mason, 53, now faces a maximum of three years in jail or a $3,000 fine in total. The date for a sentencing hearing has not yet been set.

Mason was cited in July for animal cruelty after police responded to a call about dogs being left unattended near the Top Notch Diner on Main Street in Bennington. When police responded, they found a school bus parked with 31 dogs inside, all owned by Mason. Another dog belonging to Mason was later found in a nearby forest.

In November, Judge David Howard ruled in a forfeiture hearing that Mason would have to give up the dogs, also citing the condition of the housing for the animals. The majority of those animals have already been adopted and placed in other homes.

Bennington County Deputy State's Attorney Andrew Costello said he was pleased with the verdict.

"I think the jury came back with the correct verdict," Costello said. "To a large extent, though, the forfeiture hearing was more important because it gave the dogs new homes."

Public Defender Frederick Bragdon, Mason's attorney, said Mason as "disappointed" in the decision.

"We will go through the sentencing hearing and appeal afterwards," Bragdon said Wednesday night. "I'll be meeting with (Mason) tomorrow."

Bennington Police Officers David Faden and Fred Gilbar, Animal Control Officer Jennifer Billert and Veterinarian Anna Worth testified for the prosecution.

Billert testified about the condition of the animals.

"With Mini-Tatanka (one of the dogs) ... I noticed the coat was very matted and dirty," Billert said. "I could place my fingers between each rib," Billert said. "With Jodi the front legs were deformed ... her coat was dripping with urine."

Werth also reported examining both Jodi and Mini-Tatanka.

"We measure a dog's weight on a scale of one to five, with five being morbidly obese and one being very thin (like an animal with cancer)," Worth said. "Mini-Tatanka was a .8."

Worth added that Jodi would be a 1 on that scale. Mini-Tatanka also tested positive for worms, according to Worth.

Officers Faden and Gilbar testified about the condition of the bus when they each arrived.

Faden characterized the smell as "very extreme," and said that he could smell urine and feces even while outside the bus.

"The area I could see in the bus was fairly filthy there was a lot of dirt and dog hair," Faden said.

Gilbar agreed with that assessment, testifying that he had seen fecal matter in the bus.

"I could detect a strong, foul odor coming from (the bus)," Gilbar said. "At some point, it smelled worse than some of the death scenes I'd been to."

Bragdon took issue with Gilbar's claim.

"Officer Gilbar said he saw feces on the bus," Bragdon said during his closing statement. "He controlled the camera (that took photographs documenting the state of the bus). If he saw something that disgusting, don't you think he would have taken a picture of it?"

Bragdon also questioned whether the urine smell the officers reported might be the result of the ammonia cleaning solution Mason used.

Larry Mason's defense argued that the bus had been cleaned that morning, and that the dogs were not kept in crates for long periods of time.

"That morning, I started by scraping out the bus and putting in new sawdust," said Mason, detailing his cleaning routine. "I drew water from (a nearby) stream and sluiced out the aisle."

The defense called Mason himself, as well as Stephen Pickering, a friend of Mason's from New Hampshire.

Pickering testified that the bus was kept clean, that the dogs were kept in good general health and that Pickering brought Mason substantial amounts of dog food about a ton in total.

Mason testified that the dirt evident in pictures of the bus was, in fact, sawdust, which had been tracked in and out of the aisle as the dogs were brought out for police inspection.

Mason consulted a Bible he carried with him at several times throughout the trial, notably after the closing arguments had concluded.

Bragdon closed by challenging the jury to find the urine referenced by Billert, using a photograph taken at the time.

"You tell me where the dripping urine is," Bragdon said. "Maybe you won't find it in the fur, but if it were dripping, it would surely be on the ground."

Costello, though, focused on the issue of cleanliness in his closing argument.

"Part of sanitation involves cleaning the place out every once in a while urine was pouring out of that bus," Costello said. "The state believes it's clear that having 31 dogs in a bus is not healthy for the animals."

The jury deliberated for about an hour.

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