Case Snapshot
Case ID: 17218
Classification: Neglect / Abandonment
Animal: dog (non pit-bull)
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Prosecutor(s): Lindsey Burton
Defense(s): Chong Yim
Judge(s): David Zwink

For more information about the Interactive Animal Cruelty Maps, see the map notes.

Monday, Jan 10, 2011

County: Matanuska Susitna

Charges: Misdemeanor
Disposition: Convicted

Defendant/Suspect: Frank J. Rich

Case Updates: 3 update(s) available

Animal care staff in the Mat-Su Valley worked through the night Monday to remove more than 150 dogs from a breeder's home.

Alaska State Troopers arrived Monday evening at the Montana Creek home of 53-year-old Frank Rich of Willow, near Mile 92 of the Parks Highway, to investigate a report of animal neglect.

Troopers say when they arrived at the house on Kashwitna Drive, there was no food or water for the dogs. There were about 150 dogs on the property.

Troopers say nearly all the dogs were malnourished and dehydrated. The animals were shivering and eating snow and their own feces. An additional 22 dogs that had already died were found on the properly, apparently dead from exposure, starvation and dehydration. They say there could be more dead dogs on the property.

About 30 of the dogs are puppies. Some are just a few weeks old.

Troopers arrested Rich for 50 counts of cruelty to animals and remanded him to to the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility. He was arraigned Tuesday morning on the Class A misdemeanors, and a judge entered a plea of not guilty.

Rich is held on $5,000 bail. If he posts bail, he cannot own dogs.

Rich told troopers he lost his job in October and was having a tough time supporting the dogs for his breeding operation.

Mat-Su Borough Animal Care & Regulation Manager Richard Stockdale said Animal Care removed the dogs from Rich because of the lack of care. There were 157 of his dogs at the shelter Tuesday morning.

"It is huge, I mean right now we are at full capacity, you see we're closed today just so we can process them through," Stockdale said.

He said most of the dogs were husky, and a few are Malamutes. "Most animals are emaciated and dehydrated," Stockdale said.

Animal Care is asking the community for donations of money and the dogs' current brand of food, Hills Science Diet Advanced Fitness. The shelter needs the specific brand of dog food, money, zip ties, tarps, outside kennels, blankets and metal food bowls to help with the influx of dogs.

Supplies to help out can be dropped off at the Willow Fire Statoin and the Anchorage Animal Shelter.

Officials are also asking the public to come in and adopt other dogs -- not the dogs removed from Rich's house -- to alleviate pressure on the facility and let workers treat the incoming dogs. The facility is offering a discount on adopting the dogs that were already there.

Officials say Rich's dogs will not be up for adoption any time soon -- it depends on the outcome of the trial, or if Rich signs over control.

Case Updates

A judge sentenced a Willow-area dog breeder to serve 180 days in jail after pleading guilty Monday to two counts of animal cruelty.

Frank Rich was arrested and his dogs seized in January 2011. He faced 50 counts of animal cruelty, but entered a guilty plea for only two of those charges.

Mat-Su Borough Animal Care and Regulation authorities say that most of his 168 husky-mix dogs were dangerously thin and dehydrated. The borough found 19 dead dogs there as well.

At Monday's hearing, the borough's veterinarian, Katrina Zwolinski, said many of them were teetering on the verge of death. She said there was no hay in the doghouses, and no bowls out for food or water. Some of the animals had developed sores where bones protruding under their skin had made contact with the ground too many times.

The hearing was the second attempt at a change of plea for Rich. The first, in early December 2011, failed when Rich pulled out of the deal.

Rich laid out for District Court Judge David Zwink the history of his dog breeding days, starting when he brought a companion home for a dog he owned in Michigan. Those two dogs had puppies and soon a business was born.

"I was selling about 200 puppies a year in Michigan," he said.

Rich said he got out of the business when he moved to Alaska, but slowly returned to it when he found his dogs produced puppies people wanted to own. They looked a lot like the classic sled dog, but weren't as high strung as mushing animals. If an animal wasn't one he could sell, he'd hold onto it, increasing the number of animals in his care, he said.

"I figured they were my responsibility," he said.

As his kennel grew, Rich said his ability to pay for it shrank. When his employer cut back his hours and upped his responsibilities, his health also started to deteriorate.

"I was either going to have to give up my job or give up my dogs," he said.

But unemployment payments didn't show up right away. His food stock dwindled, Rich said, and he was afraid to reach out to the borough's Animal Care and Regulation department because of a previous experience where, after a kennel inspection, he'd been ordered to get his numbers down and wound up picking 30 dogs to euthanize.

"I could only get to 24, I couldn't pick a 25th dog," he said, choking up.

The dogs got skinny and when the borough finally showed up, he was in the position of rationing food, and giving more to one particularly thin dog meant giving less to another, he said.

Rich's attorney, Chong Yim, argued for a shorter probationary period and a shorter jail term, saying that his client loved his dogs and had simply become unable to care for them.

"He now acknowledges that he could have done better," Yim said. "He knows that he could've done more and he could've gotten help."

He said Rich planned to get out of the breeding business, but there was no reason he couldn't own one or two dogs. Rich confirmed that, telling Zwink that when the borough took his dogs away, it was like "the weight of the world" had been lifted from his shoulders.

"This last year without them has opened up opportunities for me to live a different kind of life," he said.

On the other side, Assistant District Attorney Lindsey Burton was adamant that Rich had proven himself incapable of exercising the proper judgment to own dogs and should be banned from doing so throughout his 10-year probationary period.

"Two dogs can make five, can make 10, can make 15," Burton said. "The problem is it's very easy to do."

She said that the District Attorney's Office was serious enough about the need to keep dogs out of Rich's hands that it was willing to give up some of the jail time he had to serve if need be.

"These animals were sick and starving and he didn't do anything," she said.

Borough Attorney Nick Spiropoulos gave Zwink the borough's position that Rich had cost the borough a sizable amount of money. He urged Zwink to do what the borough can't and bar Rich from owning animals.

"This is a massive failure to meet any standard of reasonable care," Spiropoulos said. "This defendant is not fit to own a hamster."

As they did at the December hearing, protestors showed up to Rich's hearing Monday, bearing homemade signs with slogans expressing their outrage at the animals' treatment.

Also in the courtroom were three of Rich's friends who spoke on his behalf.

"He took very good care of those dogs," said Jim Armstrong, who has known Rich since 2000. "He would go without many times just to care for those dogs."

"He just wanted to raise his own breed of dogs. He was very proud of the bloodline," another friend, Michael Wood, testified. "Frank and I talk several times a week, and it's always about his dogs."

Zwink said that, being a dog owner himself and one who has had to put animals down in the past, he could sympathize with Rich and believed his tears were genuine during his testimony.

"I've been there," Zwink said.

In the end, Zwink's ruling sided completely with Burton, imposing the 180 days she asked for and restriction from owning animals, as well as 10 years of probation during which Rich could go back to jail for as long as 18 months if he doesn't keep his nose clean.

He compared Rich's situation to that of an addict and said that, with other addicts, judges often have to tell defendants there are certain things - going to bars, hanging out with dealers - that they just can't do.

"You knew a number of times you had too many dogs," Zwink told Rich. "You knew what other responsibilities you had."

And so, while he could sympathize with Rich, Zwink said he also has to consider the blown-up photograph of dead dogs Burton had placed on an easel in the courtroom.

"I have a picture of a pile of victims here," Zwink said.

According to the deal as Yim explained it in court, Rich will have to report to jail sometime in the next three months and can use that time to apply for a spot in the Department of Corrections' program that allows him to serve his required jail time on house arrest wearing an ankle monitor.
Source: - Jan 23, 2012
Update posted on Jan 23, 2012 - 9:11PM 
A Willow man accused of 50 counts of animal cruelty stemming from a raid on his dog breeding business backed out of a plea agreement Wednesday.

Frank Rich appeared before District Court Judge David Zwink in a black collared shirt with a neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper beard. To get there he had to navigate a gauntlet of protesters wearing placards bearing pictures of his dogs.

"I'm here for the dogs, all of them," was the most common slogan on the signs.

Before the details of the agreement reached could be put on the record, Rich's attorney, Chong Yim, told Zwink his client planned to back out of the deal. The prosecutor expressed disappointment.

"Obviously, the state is disappointed that this isn't ending today, but obviously we can't force Mr. Rich to change his plea," assistant district attorney Lindsey Burton said. "There is very little the state can say at this point."

Addressing the gallery, which at this point contained two or three dozen of the protestors, though now without their signs, Zwink explained that Rich was exercising his rights.

"That's the right that is given to very citizen. The state cannot force someone to accept that deal," the judge said.

He set a pre-trial conference hearing date of Jan. 12 - oddly, almost exactly a year after he was arrested - to see if the case was ready to go before a jury and asked attorneys to have their motions filed by the end of the month.

As they filed out of the courtroom, one protestor stopped to tell Rich that if he thought he'd be avoiding a crowd by delaying proceedings he was wrong. She predicted double the number of protestors present Wednesday would attend future court hearings.

"I don't care how many people come here. I really don't," Rich said.

Rich's case began in mid-January when the Mat-Su Borough seized 157 dogs found on his property, almost all of them malnourished and dehydrated, according to Alaska State Troopers reports. Rich was a breeder of husky/malamutes and told troopers he'd lost his job in October 2010, after which he had trouble feeding his dogs. In addition to the live dogs, troopers found 22 dead dogs, a couple of them still chained up.
Source: - Dec 7, 2011
Update posted on Dec 8, 2011 - 1:26PM 
he Matanuska-Susitna Borough animal shelter is scrambling today to make room -- and eventually find homes -- for nearly 160 skinny huskies after an animal-control officer found the dogs starving to death at the home of a Valley breeder.

Frank J. Rich, 53, pleaded not guilty today to 50 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty.

A trooper arrested Rich on Monday, finding 16 dead dogs stacked in a Conex shipping container and dozens more without food or water. Borough employees and volunteers, including at least one local musher, spent hours collecting the emaciated animals and hauling them to the borough shelter outside of Palmer .

Borough animal control manager Richard Stockdale estimates 157 huskies have been impounded, including a straw-colored female that gave birth to six puppies on Monday.

At the shelter today, lanky huskies on leashes hunched low to the ground as workers continued to test, weigh medicate the dogs.

"This is the most dogs that they (shelter employees) have impounded at one time, at least that anyone can remember, in the last 10 years," Stockdale said.

Even before the huskies arrived, the Valley animal shelter had nearly as many adoptable dogs as it could hold, a spokeswoman for the borough said. The shelter was closed to the public today as workers focused on the influx of huskies and the borough announced a sale on dog adoptions in hopes of freeing more space.

Medicine is running low, borough officials said.

The shelter is seeking donations of Hills Science Diet Advanced Fitness Original dog food, metal dog bowls, blankets, towels and material such as dry straw, tarps, zip ties and plywood that can be used to build shelters for the dogs.

Shelter workers and employees stayed until about 3:30 this morning checking the health of the new dogs, said veterinarian Katrina Zwolinski said in the shelter lobby today. Barks echoed from every corner of the building.

They are in "horrible" condition, she said.

"All of the dogs have long hair, and you can still see the hip bones ... Their spines. Their ribs. They're all very, very thin," Zwolinski.

The dogs appear to be a mix of Siberian huskies and malamutes, she said. "They're not being bred for mushers. They're being bred for pets."

Rich, who lives in the Montana Creek Area near Mile 92 of the Parks Highway, was cited in 2007 for unsanitary conditions at his kennel, according to the borough.

The latest investigation began when a tipster called Mat-Su animal control officer Darla Tampke Erskine on Saturday to report that Rich had quit his job and that 75 of his dogs had died, according to a trooper affidavit.

Borough officials knew Rich has had as many as 170 dogs in the past and say he has a kennel licensing pending to house 168 dogs, according to troopers.

Erskine drove to Rich's property on Sunday, finding more than 100 dogs, troopers said. Most were emaciated and dehydrated with little or no body fat. There were no food or water dishes in sight, troopers said.

Erskine obtained a search warrant to remove the dogs and returned on Monday with trooper Shayne Calt.

Calt said he found the dogs thin and shivering in zero-degree temperatures. "The dogs had eaten a large part of the fresh snow around them and some did not have any fresh snow remaining, indicating that they had not been given water for an extended period of time."

"I observed several of the dogs eating their own feces," Calt wrote.

All told, at least 22 animals were dead, including two in the bed of a truck and two still chained to their kennels, the trooper said.

Rich, who said in court today that he most recently worked as a "maintenance manager," told troopers he quit his job in October and was struggling to feed the dogs.

Asked why he has so many animals, Rich told troopers he breeds and sells the animals, according to the affidavit.

"Rich stated that he prioritizes the food by giving it to the puppies first, because he sells the puppies," Calt wrote.

The breeder told Palmer Magistrate Craig Condie that he was unemployed for about four months out of the past year, and made only about $24,000 in 2010.

He was being held today at Mat-Su Pretrial Facility. Condie entered a not-guilty plea on Rich's behalf, with bail set at $5,000. The breeder is not allowed to take care of any dogs as a condition of his release.
Source: - Jan 11, 2011
Update posted on Jan 11, 2011 - 10:28PM 


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