Case Snapshot
Case ID: 11963
Classification: Neglect / Abandonment
Animal: dog (non pit-bull)
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Wednesday, Aug 1, 2007

County: New Castle

Charges: Misdemeanor
Disposition: Alleged

Alleged: Stephen R. Hart

A man will face trial on animal cruelty charges, following seizure of 16 dogs at his home.

Stephen R. Hart, 33, of the 1800 block of Harvey Straughn Road in the Blodgetts Corner area near Blackbird State Forest south of Townsend, entered a plea of not guilty at Justice of the Peace Court No. 11 at Hares Corner.

Hart faces trial in Nov. 30 on 16 counts of cruelty -- one for each of the dogs seized from his home. For each of the 16 misdemeanor charges, bail was set at $100 unsecured.

Hart, who could not be reached for comment, had one phone number published that is disconnected and another that is unlisted.

His 15 pitbulls and one black Labrador mix were found in such severe condition that the failure to care for them and provide veterinary care violate Delaware law banning cruel neglect, said John E. Caldwell, executive director of the Delaware SPCA, the nonprofit agency that handles cruelty investigations statewide.

"All of them were in poor condition," Caldwell said, but all are expected to survive. No evidence was found that any of them ever had been used in dog-fighting, he said.

Hart told the SPCA he intentionally kept his dogs lean to avoid their getting overweight in winter, according to Caldwell, who described them as "just skin and bones."

If convicted on all charges from the Delaware SPCA, Hart faces fines up to $2,300 and a ban on animal ownership for up to five years.

The separate Kent County SPCA, based near Camden south of Dover, which handles kennel condition and animal licensure enforcement, separately is pursuing possible charges against Hart for failure to license the dogs and failure to provide the state-required rabies inoculation, Caldwell said.

All of the seized dogs -- estimated to be 1 to 7 years old -- were emaciated, dehydrated and suffering from parasites, according to the complaint warrant sworn by Delaware SPCA Animal Control Officer John Saville.

Six were found to have both hookworms and whipworms, 10 had hookworms and one had whipworms, the court papers say, and two have heartworm.

One of the dog had bleeding wounds, another had pressure sores and a third was suffering from open sores and hair loss, the court papers said.

"This is serious cruelty," Caldwell said, adding that Hart used the unsterilized, adult dogs as breeding stock.

All were given emergency veterinary attention and treated for their parasites, Caldwell said.

In addition to possible fines and animal-ownership restrictions, Caldwell said, state law requires Hart to pay for their veterinary costs as well as their housing at the agency's Stanton shelter.

While Caldwell said he believes all of them could be considered adoptable, he said, "we can't do anything until it's resolved in court."

Their boarding cost through the trial date is set by Delaware SPCA policy at $20 for the first day, $5 for each subsequent day for each dog -- a total of $10,480.

Initial veterinary examinations are billed at $30 each, according to SPCA policy, or another $480, Caldwell said, adding, "I don't know what the medications will come to."

Hart retains ownership of the dogs, he said, but "the way the law is, at the end of each month, we invoice them [care and boarding costs, and if they don't pay, we take possession of the animals."


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