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Sentence Bars Man from Dogs

Posted on Mar 2, 2007 - 10:11 AM
Sentence bars man from dogs
NEAL GOSWAMI, Staff Writer
Bennington Banner
Article Launched:02/27/2007 03:03:21 AM EST

Tuesday, February 27
BENNINGTON A sentence imposed Monday will keep a man convicted of animal cruelty out of jail, but also keeps him from owning animals for at least three years.
Larry Mason, 53, of New Hampshire, was convicted of two counts of depriving animals of proper sanitation and one count of transporting animals in an overcrowded vehicle by a Bennington County District Court jury last month. Mason was facing a maximum penalty of three years in jail and a $3,000 fine.

Animal cruelty conviction

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 on national forest land near Somerset Reservoir.

Bennington District Court Judge David Howard sentenced Mason to serve a total of four to 12 months, all suspended, except for five days on a work crew. In addition, Mason will be on probation for four years, must participate in an animal cruelty prevention and will undergo court ordered psychiatric treatment.

Mason's term on a work camp was stayed Monday pending an appeal that was filed by Mason's attorney, public defender Frederick Bragdon, during the sentencing hearing.

Howard also ordered Mason to forfeit his right to own any animal for a period of three years, which could allow him to own animals in the final year of his probation if his probation officer agrees that he has met the conditions of his sentence.

"In the last year of probation I am willing to consider some modification of that," Howard said.

Mason, when given a chance to address the court, said the state's prosecution was not helping anyone. He said if the state "truly wanted to help" they could have used the $41,000 it cost to care for Mason's animals and given him the money. That sum could have supported he and his dogs for several years, he said.

Howard said it was "troubling" that Mason seemed to not understand that his conduct produced unsanitary conditions for his dogs.

"At some point I think you need to get to some understanding that you were neglecting (the dogs)," Howard told Mason.

A restitution hearing will be held at a later date to determine whether Mason must pay the state back for the costs of caring for Mason's animals after they were confiscated from his bus.

Howard ruled last November 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.

Both the state and the defense had agreed upon a sentence prior to Monday's hearing that would keep Mason from serving jail time. Bennington County Deputy State's Attorney Andrew Costello and Bragdon, both suggested a sentence of three to six months, all suspended, concurrently on each count. But they disagreed on other stipulations, however, such as how long Mason should be banned from owning animals. Costello asked Howard to keep Mason from owning animals for five years, which would exceed the probation period.

"The state would argue the five-year term is appropriate given the condition of the animals," said Costello.

Mason could be subject to periodic unannounced visits by animal control officers when he is eligible to own animals again.

Christine Crawford, Bennington's Animal Control Officer who testified in the forfeiture hearing and the jury trial on behalf of the state, said she would have preferred a stronger sentence.

"I think it's good, but I'd rather see no dogs (for life). That's not going to happen because our laws in Vermont are not tough enough," she said. "What disturbs me most is that Mr. Mason doesn't think he did anything wrong."

Mason declined to comment following the hearing.

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