STRATHAM — The 28 German shepherds that have been held in protective custody by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for nearly two years will soon be able to find new homes.
The SPCA announced Wednesday that it has received a signed surrender form releasing the dogs at the center of a lengthy animal cruelty case from custody.
“This is the day that we have been waiting on for far too long,” Lisa Dennison, the SPCA’s executive director, said in a news release.
The shepherds were held at the SPCA for 22 months while former owner Jennifer Choate of Bristol was tried on animal cruelty charges.
On Wednesday, Choate surrendered Nori, Marie, Frankie, Freddie, Dora and 23 other shepherds.
“We took some of these dogs into custody in December of 2017 and the rest on January 2, 2018. The system has failed them at every turn, but today we can finally celebrate that they are ours and soon they will be able to be adopted into loving, forever homes. And finally, we will be able to breathe again,” Dennison said.
In April, a jury found the 50-year-old Choate not guilty on charges that two of her German shepherds suffered infected neck wounds as a result of continuously wearing no-bark collars.
Jurors couldn’t agree on 22 charges that Choate’s dogs were provided inadequate shelter in a rented Alexandria horse barn where they were kenneled.
The jury was also unable to reach agreement on two charges that Choate failed to provide proper medical care for a dog’s paw and ear injuries.
Choate was expected to face a new trial in August, but it was postponed after a plea deal was worked out.
Choate is now expected to plead no contest to animal cruelty charges and will face no jail time if the plea deal is approved when she returns to Grafton County Superior Court on Oct. 11.
As part of the agreement, Choate will not be able to breed dogs for five years in New Hampshire. She also won’t have to pay more than $600,000 in restitution to the SPCA for providing the dogs’ care.
Dennison said typically only a small percentage of restitution is ever actually paid and that the priority was getting the dogs released.“It was a difficult decision to agree to waiving restitution. This case has cost our agency a great deal. But our board agreed that, as always, the most important thing is the animals, not the money. Under the circumstances I think this is a great result,” said attorney Josh Scott, president of the SPCA’s board of directors.
Holding the dogs in protective custody for so long created a number of challenges. Officials said they couldn’t be adopted or spayed or neutered and their constant care took a toll on staff and volunteers.
The SPCA is getting the dogs ready for adoption and has begun assessing the hundreds of applications that were received. The shelter hopes to have them in homes by Thanksgiving.
SPCA officials are pleading for financial help as they continue to care for the dogs, which have been a major drain on its SOS Emergency Fund.
To donate: go to www.classy.org/checkout/donation?eid=127496 .
Gifts to the SOS Fund can also be made by phone by calling 772-2921, ext. 106, or sending by mail to New Hampshire SPCA, P.O. Box 196, Stratham, N.H., 03885.