NORTH HAVERHILL — A Bristol woman has surrendered 28 German shepherds to the New Hampshire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NHSPCA) and has agreed not to board or breed dogs, either directly or indirectly, for the next five years.
Jennifer Choate, 50, entered no-contest pleas to two misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty in Grafton County Superior Court on Friday. She was found guilty and given back-to-back 12-month jail sentences, suspended on the condition of good behavior for five years.
In exchange for Choate signing over ownership of the dogs to the NHSPCA, the nonprofit animal welfare group agreed to dismiss the civil suit pending in Rockingham County Superior Court that sought to recover the costs of caring for the animals since they were seized.
“Clearly this represents a compromise between the parties,” said Judge Lawrence MacLeod, who presided over Choate’s trial in April.
A jury acquitted her of charges that two of her German shepherds suffered infected neck wounds as a result of continuously wearing no-bark collars.
They were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on 22 charges that Choate’s dogs were provided inadequate shelter in a rented horse barn in Alexandria where they were housed.
Had the case gone to trial a second time, prosecutor Jack Bell told the judge the state would have presented evidence that on Dec. 13, 2017, police responded to Choate’s Chestnut Street property for a report of a fire.
A female German shepherd named “Paige” was found there limping and had a wound on her left foot, Bell said. When examined by a veterinarian, the distal bone of the foot was found to be missing and amputation was required.
Testimony from a veterinarian and professor of animal science, Bell said, would have asserted that the dog suffered from a serious long-term infection that had eaten into the bone.
The second criminal complaint charged Choate with keeping 22 German shepherds housed in the barn in Alexandria on Jan. 2, 2018, and that the facilities were inadequate as the dogs were unable to retain their own body heat in the provided shelter to keep warm. The prosecutor said testimony and weather records would have shown that the dogs were exposed to a lengthy period of sub-zero temperatures.
Additionally, testimony would have shown that the kennels were fouled with frozen dog waste and that the water buckets were solid ice, Bell said.
Bell represented that state veterinarian Steven Crawford would have testified that, in the aggregate, the conditions were detrimental to the well-being of the dogs.
Choate declined to respond to a reporter’s questions, but defense attorney Charles Keefe said she was glad to bring the case to a close.
“It was ultimately a fair resolution to the matter with both sides able to obtain what they wanted. My client has been adamant that she did not commit these crimes, but was facing a civil suit that could have bankrupted her,” Keefe said.
In May, the NHSPCA, through its attorney Christopher J. Poulin of Manchester, asserted a lien against Choate to recover the nearly $617,000 it said had been spent caring for her animals.
The 23 adults dogs plus the five puppies that were born while in the care of the NHSPCA in Stratham will now be spayed and neutered before going up for adoption.