Ending what Municipal Court Judge Susan Schroeder-Clark described was a "shocking" case, Joseph and Charlene Handrik each pleaded guilty to one count of criminal animal cruelty and 24 counts of civil animal cruelty relating to the June 3 discovery that they hoarded 276 dogs and kept them in "deplorable" conditions.
The plea agreement followed months of negotiations between the Handriks and animal control officers from the Monmouth County SPCA and the Associated Humane Societies who spent a full day removing the dogs from their house.
Howell dog hoarders given a week to plead guilty or go to trial
As part of the agreement, the Handriks must submit to a psychological evaluation. For the couple to ever own pets again, that examination would have to show that they would not be inclined to hoard animals like they did.
Their attorney, Raymond Raya of Freehold, said the hoarding started when Charlene Handrik became disabled a couple years ago and her husband got her six dogs. As the couple acquired more dogs and their pets began breeding, the population became too large for Charlene to handle mostly by herself because her husband worked long hours as a heating and air-conditioning technician, Raya said.
"I really do believe that this got away from a disabled woman," Raya said. "These were not mean-spirited people. These are people who fed these animals, spent hundreds and thousands of dollars on food."
The SPCA and the Associated Humane Societies of Tinton Falls – the contracted animal control organization for Howell – has the right to make random checks on the couple to make sure they don't own pets until and unless they receive court approval. And even then, the couple would only be allowed to own up to two pets, which would have to be spayed or neutered, said municipal prosecutor Steven Zabarsky.
Ross Licitra, chief humane law enforcement officer for the Monmouth County SPCA, said all but about a dozen of the 276 dogs have since been adopted. The others are still receiving help for behavioral problems, he said.
"At the end of the day, two good things came out of this," he said. "Number One, we rescued all the animals and they're safe and sound. Number Two, the Handriks are going to get the help that they need."
Charlene and Joseph Handrik were each charged criminally with 276 counts of animal cruelty. For the plea deal, the SPCA converted most of those offenses to civil charges.
Licitra said it was important for his agency to retain one criminal charge for each of them in the event the Handriks commit similar offenses in the future, that case would be considered a second offense and the charges would be elevated to Superior Court.
Besides the animal cruelty charges, Charlene Handrik pleaded guilty to 20 counts of having an unlicensed dog and 20 counts of failure to obtain the appropriate shots for those dogs. That added another $2,920 in fines.
Licitra said those municipal charges were filed by the Associated Humane Societies after that agency's animal control officer first suspected a large number of dogs in the house and the Handriks initially told the officer they had 20 dogs there, he said.
The hoarding came to light after that officer, attempting to return a loose dog to its home, knocked on the Handriks' door and heard the barking of many dogs. The officer contacted the Monmouth SPCA, which eventually went inside and found dogs in "every nook and cranny" of the house, including in a wall, Licitra has said.
(NJ.com - November 16, 2016)
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