Saturday, July 22, 2017

New York: Abandoned French Mastiffs likely to go up for adoption; Former owner, Bentley Valdez, faces $68,500 bill for care of the surviving canines

NEW YORK -- The animal rights lawyer representing a Fulton County shelter that took in 12 French Mastiffs in April said nine of the dogs will likely be up for adoption by Friday.

Attorney John Schopf, representing the Brennan Humane Society, said a July 20 court order requires the dogs’ owner, Bentley Valdez, to pay $68,500 to the humane society to cover the cost of boarding the animals and other expenses associated with their care.


Schopf said if Valdez does not pay within five days, the dogs will be forfeited and turned over to the Humane Society for adoption.

“I don’t think he has the financial resources to [post the bond],” said Schopf. “He has a public defender, and as I understand it, the property [where the dogs were found] is in foreclosure.”

A total of 22 French Mastiffs were found abandoned and emaciated on a Stratford farm belonging to Valdez, 55, on April 5.


Nine of the animals were found dead. One escaped on the farm’s property when police arrived, and three later died.

Nine of the dogs -- at the shelter or with temporary foster families -- will eventually be available for adoption.

Schopf added that the Humane Society was unlikely to recoup thousands of dollars spent caring for the animals, but the point of petitioning the court to have Valdez repay the shelter was to force him to forfeit the animals.

Valdez faces animal abuse charges in a pending criminal case. It was unclear this week whether he will fight the court order to pay the Humane Society or if he is fighting to retain custody of the animals.

Fulton County Assistant Public Defender Allen R. Day, who is representing Valdez, said he has not yet conferred with his client on whether to fight the court order.

Day would not comment further, citing the pending criminal case.

Valdez initially retained Johnstown-based attorney Gerard McAuliffe to represent him in the animal abuse case. McAuliffe did not return a request for comment about when he stopped representing Valdez.


Schopf said there may be a way for Valdez to appeal the court order, but that it’s unlikely.

“I don’t really see legal recourse for him right now,” he said.

He added that the nine French Mastiffs under the shelter's care are doing well, and their health continues to improve. Schopf said the humane society should have legal custody of the animals by July 28, after which they will begin accepting applications for adoption.

He cautioned that, due to the case’s high profile, it’s likely those looking to adopt one of the animals will be subject to increased vetting. Each animal will also need to be cleared by a veterinarian for adoption.

TJ Hall, an official at the humane society, said each French Mastiff in the shelter’s care has put on an estimated average of 18 pounds since being rescued.

“They’re nice, friendly and lively dogs -- much different obviously then when they came in,” said Hall. “But the personality of the dogs is really good.”

The case of the abandoned French Mastiffs attracted massive attention when word of their plight broke in early April. A T-shirt was sold, and a social media campaign was launched; the dogs became known as “The Stratford 22.”

Schopf estimated the shelter has received between $20,000 and $30,000 in donations from around the world by people who learned of the dogs’ plight. Those donations covered all of the medical bills and a good portion of the food, but the shelter has still incurred significant costs, he said.

According to court documents, police were initially called to the farm after a foreclosure agent visited the property to take photos for a bank and saw the condition of the dogs. The agent notified Town of Stratford Dog Control Officer Karen Jaquay, who visited the site and immediately notified police.

In the court order compelling Valdez to pay the humane society, state police officials who were on the scene April 5-6 testified that the animals had no access to food or water. Police are not sure how long the animals were without care.

Veterinarian James H. Smith Jr., who was brought on to assess several of the animals soon after they were found, testified that they suffered from various ailments, including malnutrition/starvation, dental tartar, discharge from ears, yeast infection, hair loss, skin lesions, hypothermia and overgrown nails.

Smith Jr. described one dog in particular as weak, depressed and emaciated, and said the dog was suffering from “a severe ear mite infection, congenital eye condition, thick, ulcerated sores, starvation for at least two months and dental issues,” according to court records.

That dog passed away April 6, the records show.

At a Stratford Town Court hearing on April 21, Valdez faced a phalanx of animal rights activists who called for stiffer penalties against those convicted of animal abuse.

The Humane Society, in the petition filed by Schopf, asked for nearly $20,000 for storing the deceased dogs, as well as between $800 and $5,600 for each of the 12 French Mastiffs that were initially in their care. Schopf said the deceased dogs were stored at the request of Fulton County District Attorney Chad Brown’s office.

“I believe necropsies have been done on several of them, but I don’t think all yet,” said Schopf.

Fulton County Court Clerk Nancy Garavelli said Brown filed a 26-count indictment against Valdez, which includes seven felony counts and 19 misdemeanor counts. The indictment was not available by press time.

Garavelli said Valdez has yet to plead to the indictment filed by Brown, despite having pleaded not guilty to the 22 misdemeanor counts he faces in Stratford Town Court.

She added that prosecution of the case has shifted to the county DA’s office. Brown did not return a request for comment on the case against Valdez. Garavelli said a conference with the attorneys involved in the case is scheduled for Aug. 4, but she could not find any court dates scheduled thereafter.


(The Daily Gazette - July 21, 2017)


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