×

Prosecutors paint picture, defense goes after Humane Society in Great Dane case

  • Christina Fay (center) of Wolfeboro appears in District Court with her attorney Kent Barker at the Carroll County Superior Courthouse in Ossipee on Sept. 6, 2017. Fay was charged in June with abusing 84 Great Danes. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor file

  • The Humane Society of the United States works with the Wolfeboro Police Dept. to rescue approximately 70 Great Danes from a suspected puppy mill on Friday, June 16, 2017, in Wolfeboro, N.H. (Meredith Lee/The HSUS) Meredith Lee

  • The Humane Society of the United States works with the Wolfeboro Police Dept. to rescue approximately 70 Great Danes from a suspected puppy mill on Friday, June 16, 2017, in Wolfeboro, N.H. (Meredith Lee/The HSUS) Meredith Lee

  • A dog waits to be loaded onto a transport vehicle as The Humane Society of the United States rescues approximately 70 Great Danes from a suspected puppy mill on Friday, June 16, 2017, in Wolfeboro, N.H. The Wolfeboro Police Dept. called in The HSUS to assist with rescue and long-term care of the dogs. (Meredith Lee/The HSUS) Meredith Lee

  • The Humane Society of the United States works with the Wolfeboro Police Dept. to rescue approximately 70 Great Danes from a suspected puppy mill on Friday, June 16, 2017, in Wolfeboro, N.H. (Meredith Lee/The HSUS) Meredith Lee



Monitor columnist
Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The state’s lawyers and witnesses wanted the judge to breathe deeply.

They hoped he’d smell the feces and the urine and the ammonia in that Wolfeboro mansion, where Christina Fay allegedly abused and neglected all those Great Danes. The smell told you what you needed to know, right?

Defense lawyers? They hoped the judge, Charles Greenhalgh, would breathe deeply as well, and smell a rat. The same rat they did: The Humane Society of the United States.

There existed a conflict of interest, they claimed, a ploy to raise funds by showing all those sad dogs. The defense wanted the judge to smell the rat, not the dog waste.

Those were the lines drawn in Day Two of Fay’s trial. She’s charged with 12 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty. Photos and a video were presented, showing what, in some instances, looked like a floor after a bunch of kids had just come home from playing in the mud.

The prosecution said it wasn’t mud. They said it was something else.

So while Fay sat next to her defense team of Jim Cowles and Kent Barker, the prosecution – Simon Brown and Tim Morgan – questioned three people to show that Fay should be punished.

One witness was Michael Strauch of the Wolfeboro Police Department, who issued the search warrant back on June 16 after smelling bad things the month before on a routine barking complaint.

Strauch, 33, is a local boy, a Kingswood Regional High School graduate with a crew cut and a square jaw. He played a little football in high school, but told me later that his thing back then was working hard as a landscaper.

And this cop had to work hard on the stand, too, as Cowles did his best to show that the Humane Society had joined forces with police to help orchestrate what amounted to a campaign to raise money.

“Did you ask the court’s permission for the Humane Society to take any photos, to take any videos or anything like that on the day of the search warrant?” Cowles asked Strauch.

“I can’t comment on that, no,” Strauch answered.

“Clearly they were using this for fundraising purposes,” Cowles continued, “which is to say they do that ... They were not there just for law enforcement purposes.”

Strauch kept his cool throughout. He never indicated impatience with Cowles’s relentless effort to show that the Humane Society had gotten involved for cash more than compassion.

Elsewhere, Cowles grilled Strauch on his knowledge of feces and urine. Strauch said some of the waste he saw back in June looked old, meaning the abuse, the dreadful conditions, was an ongoing process, not something that happened soon before police and Humane Society officials arrived.

Cowles, downplaying foul play, insinuated that dogs could still have “poop on their paws” after a few hours. No big deal.

“As a dog owner, that was a lot of poop,” said Strauch, who, as the department’s K-9 cop, has a partner named Riggs and a dog at home.

The discussion then moved from No. 2 to No. 1, at which time Strauch said, “I’m not a pee expert.”

The smell test continued, as Strauch explained that the eye-watering, nose-burning power of ammonia he had picked up during his first visit to Fay’s home in May, coupled with photos taken by two staffers, was enough to seek a search warrant and return 39 days later, without checking back with Fay to see if perhaps evidence to that point had been misleading.

And besides, Strauch testified, he didn’t want to give Fay time to clean things up.

“I was worried about evidence destruction,” Strauch said, comparing the surprise tactics to the secrecy surrounding a drug bust.

In the end, the defense, more than anything else, hammered home the point that the Humane Society, called in locally and from Washington, D.C., had used the pooches as pawns, looking to spread the news like the prosecution claimed the Great Danes had spread their feces and urine all over the mansion’s walls and floors.

“Have you ever had evidence used as a fundraising tool?” Cowles asked. “Strange, right?”

“This is a very strange case,” Strauch answered.

Indeed, it is. There were 75 Great Danes found in that 20-room mansion on June 16. Many of them had conjunctivitis and cherry eye and oral warts, which were clearly seen in photos presented by the prosecution.

A urine stain the size of a placemat was shown, along with other debris that made officials gag the day they took Fay away in handcuffs.

Jessica Lauginiger wanted the judge to know how bad things were there. She’s the director of animal crimes for the HSUS. She wore her blue Humane Society button-down shirt.

She’s the boss in cases like this, the person called in when local and state law enforcement officers have more than they can handle. She takes photos, helps police draft search warrants and does research to investigate who’s being charged.

She was notified by Lindsay Hamrick, the state director for the HSUS, and Tona McCarthy, the director of field services for the Pope Memorial SPCA in Concord.

She was greeted on the stand by prosecutor Tim Morgan, a friendly face. She narrated a video and showed photos of kennels lined up in Fay’s house like prison cells. There was dog waste and dogs with red eyes and those awful-looking white warts.

Lauginiger remembered Fay coming out of her house, her “clothing covered in what appeared to be feces.”

She described different areas of the home, classifying the basement and the foyer and the kitchen with different numbers and letters. She spoke about “a mix of decaying and fresh excrement.”

Then, with Barker cross-examining, the smell shifted.

From feces and urine and ammonia.

To rat.

Upon learning that Lauginiger had not viewed the dogs’ medical records, Barker plopped down two huge, thick loose-leaf binders and said, “Just thumb through. Take your time.”

Barker’s message was clear: How could Fay be considered cruel when so many medical records showing care for her dogs had been compiled?

“I’m not a veterinarian,” Lauginiger said, at least five times.

Then, Barker walked over to a white dry erase board and, after saying “Let’s talk about another thing not on your resume, used a marker to draw this:

“$.”

“Our senior director handles that,” Lauginiger said.

“The photos and film were immediately released to raise money for the Humane Society, yes or no?” Barker said, his voice stern.

Then he asked for details. Financial details.

Lauginiger said her organization had spent $478,000 on this case thus far, while receiving $184,000 in donations and $200,000 worth of supplies to care for the dogs.

“Do you get a bonus for this?” Barker asked.

“I don’t get bonuses,” Lauginiger said.

The battle continued, with Barker wondering about a “contract” between the HSUS and the Wolfeboro Police Department, implying the mother of all conflicts of interests.

“You get to use images and movies to raise money, correct?” Barker asked.

“That’s not what is stated here,” Lauginiger answered, viewing documentation. “I can’t answer to what they’re doing.”

Next came Dr. Monique Kramer, whose alternative medical practices include reiki and herbal medicine. She had viewed the dogs during Fay’s arrest, called in by the HSUS, before giving them a more thorough exam later at an undisclosed shelter.

Responding to Morgan, Kramer testified about the urine and the feces and the ammonia in the mansion, in that room and this room and that room.

She updated Morgan on the condition of the dogs since they were taken in June, saying surgeries and medicine and food had cleared up most of their problems.

And when Morgan finished asking his questions, the ones trying to make Judge Greenhalgh smell the inside of Fay’s home, Cowles stepped to the plate, ready to cross-examine her.

Time ran out, though, with testimony continuing Thursday afternoon at 1.

The smell of a rat would have to wait.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304, rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)