By JAIME STUDD
Recorder News Staff
MENANDS -- Dozens of dogs seized from a Mayfield residence over the summer will finally be getting the opportunity to settle comfortably in happy, healthy and -- most importantly -- permanent homes in the coming weeks.
The animals have been under the care of the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society since June, when they were rescued from the Progress Road home of Tirzah Henry.
Fulton County sheriff's deputies serving an eviction notice on Henry for failure to pay her rent arrived to find at least one dead puppy and 34 additional dogs allegedly living among filth and feces.
At the time of the eviction, no charges were filed against Henry because the living dogs appeared to be in good condition. Charges were, however, subsequently filed and the dogs were then seized from Kelly's Animal Haven, where they had been placed until authorities could obtain a court order for the seizure.
Henry was eventually charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty, including failure to provide proper sustenance and unlawful disposal of dead animals.
Fulton County District Attorney Louise Sira said Wednesday that Henry recently agreed to a plea in the case.
According to the deal, Henry pled guilty to abandonment of an animal, a class A misdemeanor in exchange for a sentence of 32 days in jail.
According to Sira, Henry has already served out that sentence.
Henry was also forced to surrender 27 dogs that were originally seized. Seven of the dogs were returned to her.
The deal also includes a three-year conditional discharge in which Henry is prohibited from obtaining any new animals, Sira said.
Henry will not, however, be monitored by authorities, as is traditionally done in such cases, because she now lives in Montgomery County.
"The sheriff's office just lacks the resources to coordinate out of county monitoring," Sira said.
The sentence, Sira said, is comparable to what Henry would have received had she been convicted on the original charges.
"It's the same level of charge and you could charge her with it 11 times or 20 times, it's still the same sentence and it's still a class A misdemeanor," said Sira. "During negotiations, all parties agreed that abandonment of an animal was probably the better charge because the puppy was dead and she had abandoned it, left it for dead there."
Sira said she believed Henry's sentence sends a strong message.
"If you look at these cases capital-district wide, it's a pretty severe sentence. Rarely are animal hoarders/abusers, rarely do they see the inside of a jail cell and rarely are they held to the standard of misdemeanor charges with conditional discharges like that," said Sira. "It was a serious case. It needed to be dealt in a serious manner and a tone has to be set for the county in terms of our lack of tolerance for animal abusers."
According to Nancy Laribee, Marketing and Development Director for MHHS, it is as a result of the resolution reached in Henry's criminal case that the animals can now be officially adopted.
"If there's a cruelty case, or it looks like abuse, normally what happens is the dogs are seized and you try to get them surrendered. If they're surrendered they become our property or the property of whoever they're surrendered to," said Laribee. "These dogs were just seized because it was not a good situation. We could do nothing but take care of these animals until the case was settled."
"Medically they could be taken of, but they could not be spayed or neutered and they could not be adopted out," she added. "If you haven't worked with these cases, the difference between seized and surrendered is huge. Unfortunately, animals are considered property."
Laribee said the MHHS was moved to get involved in the case because there was an obvious lack of resources available to care for such a large number of animals.
She said the humane society offers its services outside the region it serves whenever they are able.
"It's not uncommon for shelters and rescue groups to reach out if they know that there's a need and if you have room," said Laribee. "You have to take care of what you've got first, and then if you have room.
"It's what animal people do," she added.
Laribee said the shelter itself was not able to accommodate all of Henry's dogs, but the humane society was able find foster families willing to care for the animals.
"They were very sweet and we had volunteers that were helping care for them. Some of them were in foster homes, so they were being well cared for while the case was being decided," said Laribee. "They're prime pets."
Despite Henry having forfeited 27 of her dogs, Laribee said there is actually a greater number available for adoption as a result of the case because several of the dogs have since had litters of puppies.
"Not everybody's available at the same time because some of the puppies are young and they haven't been spayed or neutered," Laribee said.
Last week, the organization began advertising the first of Henry's dogs as available for adoption and all were immediately claimed by loving families.
"These were Papillons and Shih Tzus and Poodles and some Rottweiler puppies," said Laribee. "Those sorts of dogs don't go up on the web site and stay there for very long."
Laribee said additional animals will become available in the coming days and weeks, now that the criminal case and resolved and the humane society can legally spay and neuter the animals.
They will not be allowed to be adopted until those procedures are performed.
All seven of the dogs returned to Henry were also spayed or neutered, Laribee said.
The puppies will become available as they come of age.
For more information about adoption, visit the MHHS web page at www.mohawkhumane.org.