×

In the trial on an owner’s cruelty to Great Danes, veterinarian takes center stage

  • Willliam Albrecht, who represents veterinarian Kate Battenfelder, argues in court Tuesday that his client should not have to testify in the animal abuse trial of Christina Fay. RAY DUCKLER / Monitor staff



Monitor columnist
Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Someone else was under a white-hot spotlight Tuesday in Ossipee’s district court, beyond the woman charged with mistreating 75 Great Danes.

She’s a veterinarian named Dr. Kate Battenfelder. She practices in Bartlett, and her story has been bubbling below the surface in the trial of Christina Fay of Wolfeboro, who’s charged with 12 counts of animal cruelty and negligence.

We learned during the fifth day of the trial that Battenfelder won’t have to testify. The results of her medical examinations have already been called into question, so Battenfelder, through attorney William Albrecht of Conway, sought to invoke her Fifth Amendment rights, looking to avoid self-incrimination.

Judge Charles Greenhalgh granted her request, stating, “I agree that the majority of Dr. Battenfelder’s testimony is likely to result in statements that could incriminate her ... I am allowing Dr. Battenfelder to invoke her Fifth Amendment rights.”

Battenfelder is Fay’s personal veterinarian, the doctor in charge of the vast stable of dogs found in Fay’s Wolfeboro mansion on June 16, when Fay was led away in handcuffs.

The Wolfeboro police and the Humane Society of the United States said they “rescued” the dogs.

Fay, though, said her dogs were seized. She said they received proper care. She said officials had no right to take them from her.

And this is where Battenfelder comes in. Fay and her defense team have been saying that Battenfelder’s logs and medical records say a lot.

They show how often Fay brought her dogs to see the good doctor. One estimate was 289 times. They show how much money Fay invested. Money connected to love.

The Battenfelder element is yet another intriguing piece, added to a million-dollar-plus home, feces and urine on the floors and walls, a powerful ammonia smell in the air, big beautiful dogs suffering from infected eyes and skin lesions, a police raid, and medical professionals squaring off with opposing views on what went on in Fay’s home leading up to her arrest.

Some have questioned the accuracy of Battenfelder’s diagnoses and the health certificates she filled out.

The certificates that said things were okay with Fay’s Great Danes. No medical problems to see here.

But another veterinarian, Dr. Monique Kramer, had been called in by the HSUS to check the dogs after they’d been taken from Fay’s house, and her report said numerous medical problems existed.

And that, potentially, meant hot water for Battenfelder.

The local police chief, in fact, pulled no punches when asked in August about Battenfelder’s documentation, which was called into question in the affidavit filed by Wolfeboro police officer Michael Strauch.

In court Tuesday, Albrecht read a few passages and quotes from a column, printed in these pages, about Battenfelder.

Like this one:

“Rondeau said he’s ‘interested’ that health certificates were signed by Dr. Battenfelder of Bartlett, giving some dogs high marks for their physical condition, and that a subsequent examination conducted by Dr. Monique Kramer, who’s affiliated with the North Conway Humane Society, found that those same dogs were suffering from contagious diseases, according to court documents.”

And this one, a direct quote from Rondeau during a phone interview: “There are severe discrepancies between what one veterinarian has said and what the other had observed almost immediately after the examinations were completed by the first doctor. Obviously we’re very interested in all of this.”

Later, prosecuting attorneys Simon Brown and Tim Morgan declined to grant Battenfelder immunity, leading the trial to its latest turn in a serpentine saga.

It also led to Judge Greenhalgh’s ruling, that “particularly in light of the fact that the chief of police has been explicit that she was the subject of investigations and potential prosecution,” Battenfelder did not have to testify for the defense.

Battenfelder was in court Tuesday. Once her attorney had accomplished his mission, both were gone in a flash.

Defense attorneys Kent Barker and Jim Cowles had called Battenfelder as their witness and were disappointed she was dismissed.

Sure, they had her records and direct testimony by a veterinarian from Virginia, Samantha Moffitt, who said Fay and Battenfelder had combined to make a great team when it came to caring for the Great Danes.

“This is an owner that I can see that is not just giving adequate care,” Moffitt told Barker last week. “I can tell her main interest is to treat her animals by seeing the medical records in front of me.”

The defense wanted more, though. Barker told the judge that Battenfelder’s firsthand account was vital, that no one “on the planet,” beyond Fay, knew the condition of the dogs.

“The animals are the core issue, and those are the witnesses who are going to decide how this case should be resolved,” Barker said.

So now what?

The state rested its case, and the trial will continue on an undetermined date. Barker told me his client will testify.

Meanwhile, Judge Greenhalgh will take Barker’s request to dismiss all charges, based on what the defense claimed was a lack of evidence, under advisement.

Greenhalgh will also rule on the defense’s contention that the scope of the search warrant became too broad when police included the HSUS without telling the judge beforehand, adding that the agency sought inclusion, in part, for propaganda and fundraising purposes.

After court, I sought information from the state, asking Brown and Morgan why they had declined to grant Battenfelder immunity.

Something about prosecuting the doctor later because of those contradicting medical reports? Something about the state’s Board of Veterinary Medicine getting involved?

Something about that white-hot spotlight?

“No comment,” Brown said.

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