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Animals Seized, Man Charged in Cruelty Case

Posted on Sep 6, 2007 - 9:32 AM
Rutland Herald
Article published Sep 5, 2007

BENNINGTON A local man is facing 10 counts of animal cruelty after police said they learned he was living with three dogs and 10 cats in a rat-infested trailer that had no electricity or water.

Michael Rinaldo, 52, of Bennington, pleaded innocent to the charges in Bennington County District Court on Aug. 27. He was released without bail but under condition that he not possess any animals.

In an affidavit, Bennington Police Officer Anthony Silvestro said he first learned of the situation when Rinaldo called police to report a problem with his landlord at Rinaldo's trailer on June 29.

Silvestro said he asked about the number of animals in the trailer when he heard barking from inside. Silvestro said Rinaldo told him he had 10 cats and three dogs.

Rinaldo said there was no electricity or running water in the trailer, according to the affidavit.

Silvestro said he could smell a strong odor of feces and urine in the trailer. According to the affidavit, the floor of the trailer was partially missing and had been replaced with boards. Silvestro said he saw several animal food bowls on the floor, but they were empty.

The animals were kept in a room within the trailer, according to the affidavit, and the three dogs were barking and scratching at the door.

When Rinaldo let the dogs out of the room, Silvestro saw all three were missing patches of fur and had red skin that they rubbed against various surfaces to scratch themselves, according to the affidavit.

Silvestro said Rinaldo told him the dogs had fleas and possibly ticks. Rinaldo said he washed one of the dogs with dish soap recently to get rid of the fleas, according to the affidavit.

One of the dogs had what appeared to Silvestro to be a tumor about the size of a softball hanging from its stomach, according to the affidavit. Silvestro said Rinaldo told him the Humane Society had refused to treat the tumor.

Silvestro asked for permission to take photographs of the animals and the room where they were kept, according to the affidavit.

The room was hot and unventilated, Silvestro said. According to the affidavit, Rinaldo told Silvestro the windows did not open.

"The odor caused me to gag and made my eyes tear," Silvestro wrote.

Silvestro said there was one litter box for the 10 cats and one bowl that had about a half a cup of dog food. The floor was wet and moldy, Silvestro said, which Rinaldo said was because of a flood inside the trailer, according to the affidavit.

A cat sitting on a box in the room appeared to have trouble breathing and was gasping, Silvestro wrote.

According to Silvestro, Rinaldo said he couldn't afford to take the animals for veterinary care.

During Silvestro's investigation, Rinaldo made reference to Larry Mason and said he was not like Mason.

Mason was convicted of animal cruelty in January after police learned he had 31 dogs on a school bus in Bennington last summer that he was planning to drive across the country.

Silvestro said Rinaldo also told him there were rats in the trailer, according to the affidavit.

On July 12, Silvestro said he spoke with Michelle Alexander, an investigator from the Humane Society who works at Second Chance Animal Shelter in Vermont. Alexander said she had been to Rinaldo's trailers a few days before because one of the dogs had been electrocuted. Alexander said she believed the dog died after biting an exposed electrical wire that had been chewed by rats.

Alexander also told Silvestro that Second Chance had provided some food and cat litter, but were unable to persuade Rinaldo to give up the animals.

Silvestro, Alexander, Second Chance humane investigator Amanda Flinn and Bennington Animal Control Officer Christine Crawford went to Rinaldo's trailer on July 30 to seize the animals.

According to Silvestro, Rinaldo became agitated and was placed in handcuffs by Silvestro and another Bennington Police officer.

Investigators removed two dogs, seven living cats and a dead cat found in a cardboard box wrapped in a black garbage bag.

"Rinaldo has called me several times after his arrest telling me that I signed his death warrant because of the infestation of rats he has and by taking his cats, the rats are roaming free and will kill him," Silvestro wrote.

Flinn said on Monday the cats are all on antibiotics. She said they were infested with fleas and had upper respiratory infections when they were seized.

The dogs were taken to Great Fields Kennel in North Bennington. The owner there said she could not comment on the condition of the dogs.

Flinn said the cats will most likely be made available for adoption once the legal issues surrounding their custody are resolved. Until then, she said, any contribution toward their care made to the Second Chance Animal Shelter would be helpful.

Rinaldo is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 25.

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


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