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Court Upholds Cruelty Ruline

Posted on May 5, 2008 - 3:32 PM
Court upholds cruelty ruling

April 28, 2008

By PATRICK McARDLE Herald Staff

BENNINGTON The Vermont Supreme Court recently upheld the animal cruelty conviction of a former New Hampshire man and the forfeiture of his 32 German shepherds after police found he had been transporting the animals across New England in unsanitary conditions on a school bus.

Larry Mason, 53, was convicted on three counts of animal cruelty in January 2007 and placed on probation in February 2007, preventing him from owning pets for at least three years.

Bennington police originally came into contact with Mason after his bus full of dogs was spotted in the parking lot of a local restaurant in July 2006.

Mason told police he had left New Hampshire with the dogs and planned to look for a church in the western United States where he could serve as pastor. Police cited him for animal cruelty and took the dogs into custody.

In December 2006, the court ordered Mason to forfeit ownership of all 32 German shepherds.

Mason appealed the forfeiture ruling to the Vermont Supreme Court, arguing that the state had not proven the neglect of the animals was a permanent condition that couldn't be "cured" in a reasonable amount of time.

The Supreme Court in a decision from April 14 said prosecutors were not obligated to prove that the neglect could be remedied because the statute approved by the Legislature made no mention of the length of abuse or the speed and nature of a remedy.

However, the Supreme Court reserved the right to deny future forfeiture hearings "when the neglect is of a particularly short-term nature or subject to extenuating circumstances ..."

The justices did not believe Mason's appeal met that standard.

"For the evidence and the court's findings here plainly show, that the neglect was longstanding; the emaciated condition of many of the dogs clearly developed over time and, as the court observed, the unsanitary 'condition of the bus was far beyond what even a number of dogs might cause for dirt and waste over a day or so,'" the decision said.

Police and animal rescue workers testified at Mason's trial that the bus was too hot and that it smelled inside of animal waste. A veterinarian testified that some of the dogs appeared malnourished and one dog appeared to have deformed legs that may have been correctable if it had received proper treatment.

Judge David Howard said at Mason's sentencing hearing that he found it "troubling" that Mason did not believe he had done anything wrong. The Supreme Court decision echoed Howard's comment.

"Nor was there any credible or substantial evidence that (Mason) recognized and was prepared to undertake, remedial efforts adequate to address the problem," the decision said.

The justices concluded there no basis to revoke the forfeiture.

Mason also appealed his conviction based on whether the jury was able to return unanimous verdicts because of the way the charges described four examples of medical neglect in the case of the dog named in the appeal, that her medical needs for her pregnancy, worms, coat matting and fractured front legs were not met as one action and because one dog was singled out as being "transported in an overcrowded vehicle."

The high court agreed with the state's response that, "logically, one animal cannot be overcrowded."

The decision found that the exact cause of neglect did not significantly affect the jury's decision or the sentence Howard imposed.

"(The court's) principal concern was (Mason's) continuing inability to recognize that he had generally neglected the dogs," the justices wrote.

Bennington's Animal Control Officer Christine Crawford said she would have opposed any efforts to return the dogs to Mason.

"At this point, 27 of those animals have new homes and happy new lives. They didn't deserve what they had done to them," she said.

Crawford said she hopes the Vermont Supreme Court's decision indicates the state is starting to take serious efforts to prevent animal abuse and punish abusers.

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


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