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Dog Dies Outside; Owner Guilty of Cruelty

Posted on Feb 6, 2007 - 9:46 AM
February 6, 2007


BENNINGTON A woman was found guilty of cruelty to animals on Monday after police found her dog dead and tangled in his leash in the backyard of her Pownal home.

Amy M. Harris, 24, pleaded no contest in Bennington District Court to the charge of animal cruelty through depriving the animal of adequate food, water, shelter, rest, sanitation or necessary medical attention.

Harris' sentence on the charges was deferred for 18 months by Bennington County District Court Judge David Howard.

While Harris' deferred sentence agreement with the state requires her to pay restitution to the state of about $265, there is nothing that specifically bars her from owning pets. Windham County State's Attorney Dan Davis, who prosecuted the case, told Howard the restitution was to pay veterinarian costs.

Harris is also required to refrain from criminal behavior and submit to administrative probation.

Vermont State Police Trooper Christopher Burnett said in an affidavit he was contacted about the dog on June 18 by Pownal Animal Control Officer Steven Zelman.

A neighbor had called Zelman about a dead dog in the backyard of Harris' home. Zelman said when he got to the house, he found two dogs, one a pit bull and one a small dog, likely a mutt. The smaller dog was dead.

There was no food or water for either dog, Zelman said.

Zelman told Burnett he had taken the pit bull to his home where he gave the dog food and water.

Zelman said Monday that he returned the pit bull to Harris because he had nowhere else to place it. Zelman said neither the Second Chance Animal Shelter in Shaftsbury nor the neighboring shelter in Massachusetts would accept the pit bull.

Zelman said the death of the dog was "more negligence than abuse."

The police officer said when he got to the home he found the dead dog tied to a stake. When unwrapped, the dog's leash would have reached food and water bowls nearby but the dog was found with the leash wrapped so closely around the stake, it would have had only four to six inches to move, according to Burnett.

The food and water bowls were empty when Burnett reached the house, he said. Burnett said he spoke with Harris, who was in New York, on the same day he found the dog. Harris explained that she had been unexpectedly asked to watch a relative's children and hadn't been able to return home when she expected.

A few days later, Harris told police she had left the dogs outside the day before one was found dead, Burnett said. She expected to return home the same night or early the next morning, Harris told police.

Harris said the dog, which she had owned for six years, had never been known to become tangled in his leash and had even slipped out of his collar regularly.

During Harris' sentencing hearing on Monday, Howard asked why she was pleading no contest instead of guilty. Her attorney, James J. Cormier III, said the plea had been a "major stumbling block" in reaching agreement with the state.

Cormier said Harris still believes a neighbor did something to the dog to cause its death and pointed to the inconclusive results from a veterinarian's autopsy. However, she was willing to agree the state would be able to prove its case during a trial.

Davis prosecuted the case because Harris was defended by the Bennington law firm of Cormier, Cormier and Marthage. Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage is married to that firm's partner, Brian Marthage.

Contact Patrick McArdle at

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