Case Snapshot
Case ID: 18839
Classification: Neglect / Abandonment
Animal: dog (non pit-bull), horse, cow, chicken
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Friday, Oct 28, 2011

County: Franklin

Disposition: Alleged

Alleged: Kelly Dietrich

Former Burlington chef Kelly Dietrich says police allegations that he neglected animals at his summer camp for children in Highgate are "absolutely false."

"I'm confident that I'll prevail," Dietrich, 51, said Wednesday from his home in Florida. "There's absolutely no proof."

Following up on a tip from town officials, the Vermont State Police visited the Kids Culinary Camp of Vermont on Oct. 28 and "found that there was no food or water" for the two horses, two calves, three dogs and about 100 chickens and turkeys at the property, Trooper Drew Cota said Wednesday. Dietrich had left Vermont for Florida before the search.

"We also found that the living conditions of the animals were not satisfactory, they were very dirty," Cota said. Judging by their empty pails and the amount of excrement in their pens, Cota figured the animals had not been cared for over a period of "significantly more than a day or two."

Police also found a dead horse with its throat slit buried beneath a brush pile, Cota said. Dietrich, however, said the horse, one of three rescue horses he saved from a farm in New York, had been old and sickly and died about a week before Cota's visit. He said he cut the horse's throat after the animal died so it would bleed out and not stink and attract coyotes. He said he covered the horse in brush to keep the eyesore from view, and intended to use a neighbor's backhoe to dig the animal's grave.

"It was an old horse," Dietrich said. "I have witnesses that know all that, that will show all that."

Police arrested Dietrich when he returned to the camp Oct. 28 and cited him to appear Dec. 19 in Vermont Superior Court in St. Albans on suspicion of animal cruelty. Dietrich said he was coming from the feed store, where he had spent about $300 on food for his animals.

Police executed a search warrant for the property at 4892 Gore Road on Nov. 9. Accompanied by a veterinarian, a representative from the Vermont Department of Agriculture and about a dozen volunteers trained to work with animals, police seized one of the two surviving horses, which Cota described as "severely malnourished."

Since then, "the conditions of the animals had improved significantly," Cota said.

Dietrich said the horse that police seized was underweight because it had been bullied by the other surviving horse.

"The horse is being cared for at an undisclosed location," said Deb Loring, a member of the Vermont Humane Federation who lives in Burlington. Loring managed logistics for the volunteers who responded to the camp Nov. 9.

As for the other animals, the Highgate animal control officer has been checking on them daily, Dietrich said. His family, friends and neighbors care for the animals while he spends his winters in Florida, he said.

Police and town officials drafted a compliance plan for Dietrich to ensure someone cares for the animals in Dietrich's absence.

"The animal control officer is making periodic checks, to make sure they're fed and watered," Highgate Town Administrator David Jescavage said. Jescavage said he called police about the alleged neglect, after the town's part-time animal control officer responded to a complaint at Dietrich's property.

Jescavage declined to say what that complaint had been about, and said he was reluctant to speak about the case, because he might testify as a witness in court. Dietrich said he presumes a passerby complained about the dead horse.

At Dietrich's summer camp, students ranging in age from 10 to 17 stay for weeks at a time in a 19th-century farmhouse. Tuition costs $2,695 for one week, or $1,275 for those who don't stay overnight.

In addition to cooking, "we teach them about the gardens and farming and animals," Dietrich said. "We always have a lot of animals around."

The camp's website states: "We believe to complete the culinary experience, students should learn where (their) meat ingredients come from. Although here at the Academy we do no slaughtering, students will have exposure to farm animals and how to raise them."

Dietrich said Wednesday he was accepting applications for the summer 2012 camp.

He used to run the Burlington restaurant Souza's, which closed in June. Dietrich said Wednesday he was looking to move his restaurant into a larger location in Burlington.


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