Kennel owner faces $617,000 NHSPCA lien for care of 31 German shepherds

{child_byline}By Bea Lewis

Union Leader Correspondent

{/child_byline}

NORTH HAVERHILL — The N.H. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has been granted a lien of nearly $617,000 against a Bristol woman for the board and care of her 31 German shepherds, which were seized by police after she was accused of animal cruelty.

Jennifer Choate, 49, was acquitted of two of the charges in April, but 24 other misdemeanor cruelty charges are pending because the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict and a mistrial was declared. The Grafton County Attorney’s Office is preparing to retry the case, which is scheduled to go back before a jury next month.

As the state had earlier dismissed nine charges when the April trial concluded, the defense was granted its request that the eight dogs that were the subject of those complaints be returned to Choate.

On May 17, the NHSPCA through its attorney Christopher J. Poulin of Manchester asserted a lien against Choate to recover the $616,907.98 it had spent caring for her animals through May 10.

A judge ordered that Choate is not to dispose of any of the dogs until the debt is settled. More recently, the court ordered the NHSPCA to return five puppies born to one of Choate’s dogs while they were in the custody of the animal welfare group.

Trial Judge Lawrence J. MacLeod Jr. also denied the NHSPCA’s request to be authorized to make weekly inspections of the eight adult dogs.

Christina Fay, 61, formerly of Wolfeboro, who was convicted of animal cruelty in connection with her care of nearly 80 Great Danes at her 49 Warren Sands Road mansion, is under court order to pay $1,953,606 in restitution to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and $18,682.32 to the town, payable within five years. She was also fined $42,150.

Fay’s case remains on appeal to the N.H. Supreme Court, which has given the state until Aug. 2 to file its brief. Among the 15 issues the high court has been asked to examine is whether trial Judge Amy L. Ignatius misapplied the restitution statute when ruling that the state had shown by a preponderance of the evidence that HSUS was entitled to recoup costs “purportedly related to its volunteers and consultants.”

Appellate defense attorney Theodore M. Lothstein of Concord is also challenging the decision not to allow Fay to receive any credit for the value of the dogs seized in ordering restitution. He is also asking the justices to examine whether restitution should have been capped at $142,000 — representing the $2,000 per dog bond amount specified by statute — or if a daily care cost of $20 per dog should have been used.

Meanwhile, a final pretrial hearing in the Choate case is scheduled for July 31, with the trial now on track to begin in August.

Prosecutor Jack Bell has filed two motions asking a judge to bar the defendant from testifying that her plans to build a kennel facility in Alexandria were delayed because of two structure fires at her Bristol property.

Bell is also asking the court to preclude Choate from repeating testimony which he asserts has since been proven false, that the NHSPCA used photos of her dogs to promote a fundraiser with Tito’s Vodka or that one of her dogs escaped from NHSPCA custody.

Saturday, October 19, 2019
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