Case Snapshot
Case ID: 812
Classification: Hoarding
Animal: cat, dog (non pit-bull)
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Thursday, Nov 7, 2002

County: Ulster

Charges: Misdemeanor
Disposition: Dismissed
Case Images: 1 files available

Persons of Interest:
» Patricia Aline Abezis
» Michael Sickler
» Tracy Ann Pennington - Convicted

Case Updates: 6 update(s) available

On Nov. 7, 2002, SPCA enforcement officers and Ulster County sheriff's deputies arrested Patricia Abezis, 48, along with assistants Michael Sickler, 52, and Tracy Ann Pennington, 44, at the 412 Whitfield Road shelter in Accord. An indictment listing 116 misdemeanor counts of failure to provide sustenance to an animal charged that 92 dogs, 24 cats and numerous hens and rabbits were found without food and water and that kennels were contaminated with feces and standing water.

Ulster County Sheriff's deputies, the County SPCA Law Enforcement Unit and the District Attorney's office conducted the probe that led to the arrests

Thirty animals were seized and still reside at the SPCA facility in the town of Ulster. About 100 animals remain with Abezis as she and her employees fight the charges in Rochester Town Court.

This is not Abezis' first run-in with animal welfare authorities. She was charged in April 2000 with five counts of failure to provide sustenance to a dog, though those charges were later dropped.

Patty's Angel's Animal Rescue facility began in 1997.

At Patty's Angels, on a narrow mountain road beyond the Accord Speedway, a thick sheet of ice and snow covers the grounds. Inside the 17th-century stone farm house, dogs in training cages and others running loose create a cacophony of barks, whines and howls as a visitor enters. The rusty training cages, which leave just enough room for a dog to stand up and turn around, are open on the bottom and rest on a buckling wooden floor. Most have a single blanket inside.

The rooms in the house are dim and bare, except for a few pieces of battered furniture and the training crates. A walk through the house reveals about 20 dogs, loose and caged, in four rooms. Five more are outside in a run attached to the house.

Abezis said the dogs in the house are caged only at night and at feeding time. On this day, they have been locked up so they will not stampede a visitor, she said.

Pennington said all the dogs in the house get outdoor exercise twice a day. The exercise periods range from 20 minutes in bad weather to three hours when it is warm, said Pennington, who began working for room and board one day before the November raid.

Inside a long blue wooden kennel, pens about 4 feet square and holding dozens of dogs line each wall. Larger enclosures stand in the center of the two wings of the kennel. Here, too, some dogs are confined to training cages.

All of the pens lining the walls have small doors, which are opened by a pulley system, that lead to outdoor runs 5 feet wide and about 50 feet long. Most of the dogs have a pen to themselves. A few contain two dogs.

In each pen, a plastic sleeping pallet rests on the concrete floor. The outdoor runs, which appear cleaner than in the photos taken by the SPCA, are still layered with a coating of dog waste frozen into the ice that covers the runs. "We have to go at it with a pick and shovel to get it clean," Abezis said. "We are still working on that."

About six cats live in a barn loft with chicken wire running down the center to prevent escape. A cradle and baby carriage piled with blankets are the only visible source of heat, and the litter boxes contain more waste than litter.

All of the dogs shown to a visitor had food and water, and none appeared to be emaciated or outwardly ill. The only visible injury was to a pit bull in a training cage in the house: It had a large, pink sore on its nose. Sickler held up a soiled dog bed and explained the animal rubbed his nose raw on it.

Abezis admits the facility is "not the prettiest place," explaining the death of her husband, Steven, in 2000 after a long battle with cancer and her own health problems have made it difficult to carry out her original plan to completely renovate the house and kennel. Still, she insists the animals are well-cared for.

"Not for one minute were these animals not fed," Abezis said. Abezis, a Delta Air Lines flight attendant and Long Island native, blamed the November arrests on a former employee who, angry that she would not bail him out of jail on a drunk driving charge, told authorities the animals were not being fed. To back up her claim, Abezis referred to an affidavit filed by Middletown veterinarian Dr. Paul Johnson on Nov. 22 that reads: "After review of approximately 130 animals located at (the facility), I was able to ascertain that all animals received necessary food, water, shelter and care."

Christine French, director of the Ulster County SPCA said that Abezis, in her zeal to rescue abused and abandoned animals, has become overwhelmed.

"That facility was designed to hold a certain number of animals, and now it is overcrowded and understaffed," French said. She points to a small white terrier mix seized from the shelter as evidence the dogs may be confined to cages for longer periods than Abezis claims. The dog races frantically back and forth through a small doorway leading to an outdoor run for about five minutes straight. "That is not a sane dog," French said.

Abezis said many of the shelter's problems are caused by harassment from the SPCA. The arrests, she claims, have made it difficult to find employees and volunteers. Meanwhile, publicity surrounding the criminal case a warning about Patty's Angels on the Internet have caused donations to the non-profit corporation to drop to almost zero.

But Abezis is confident she will beat the charges and continue her mission to find homes for adoptable animals and provide sanctuary for the rest. "This work never stops because animal abuse never stops," she said. "Some of these dogs will never find homes, but at least they won't be killed."

Abezis, Sickler and Pennington were issued appearance tickets to Rochester Town Court on December 4th 2002 for the misdemeanor charges.


Case Updates

After six years, two mistrials, a conviction and a successful appeal, animal cruelty charges against Patty's Angels owner Patricia Abezis have been dropped.

Rochester Town Justice Deborah Schneer said the charges brought by the Ulster County District Attorney's Office were insufficient because they failed to contain non-hearsay allegations to support the criminal charges.

David Steinberg, the attorney who represented Abezis in her appeal, lauded the court's ruling.

"This has been a long, difficult process for Miss Abezis to clear her name," he said.

Steinberg said the only evidence on which the prosecution based its allegations was a single statement made by Abezis' co-defendant, Tracy Ann Pennington.

A reporter's calls to the Ulster County District Attorney's Office were not returned on Wednesday.

Abezis, an flight attendant for Delta Airlines, also could not be reached on Wednesday. In the past, she has denied the charges and blamed her arrest on a former employee who she said neglected the animals over a weekend when she out of town - the same weekend the employee was arrested for drunken driving.

The dismissal was the latest, and likely last, chapter in a twisted saga that began in 2002 when officers with the Ulster County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Ulster County Sheriff's Office seized 30 animals from the privately run animal shelter in the Rochester hamlet of Accord and arrested Abezis and two of her employees.

According to its Web site, the Patty's Angels Animal Sanctuary opened its doors in 1997 "to rescue and house abused and abandoned animals, usually the poorest of the poor in the canine world."

Authorities claimed, however, that rather than rescue the animals she took in, Abezis inflicted her own abuse on them, forcing them to live in filthy and overcrowded conditions, without heated shelter, food or fresh water.

On Nov. 7, 2002, officers arrested Abezis, Pennington and an assistant, Michael Sickler, at the Whitfield Road shelter.

The three initially were charged with 116 misdemeanor counts of failure to provide sustenance to an animal. Authorities alleged 92 dogs, 24 cats and numerous hens and rabbits were found without food and water and that kennels were contaminated with feces and standing water.

Charges subsequently were dropped against Sickler, who had begun working at the shelter only two days before the raid, and charges against Abezis and Pennington were modified to 19 counts each of failure to provide proper sustenance and failure to provide proper food and drink.

Between 2002 and 2005, trials were set at least four times, and twice - in 2004 and again in 2005 - mistrials were declared due to an insufficient number of jurors being called to serve.

On April 29, 2005, Abezis and Pennington were convicted of failure to provide proper sustenance and failure to provide proper food and drink to an impounded animal, misdemeanors under the state's Agriculture and Markets Law.

In December 2005, the two were sentenced by Rochester Town Justice Al Babcock to three years of probation, ordered to pay $80,000 restitution to the SPCA and banned for life from caring for more than two animals.

Babcock also ordered Abezis to surrender to the Ulster County SPCA an additional 87 animals that had been allowed to stay at the sanctuary pending the outcome of the criminal case.

But in 2007, Acting Ulster County Court Judge Mary Work overturned the convictions against the two and ordered a new trial, saying Babcock improperly allowed evidence of uncharged crimes to be introduced during the trial and that he failed to preserve for appellate review instructions he gave to the jury about considering that evidence.

Steinberg said he used Work's decision as the basis for his motion to have the charges against his client dismissed.

Cindy Caporale, vice president of the Ulster County SPCA's board of directors, said she was not aware of the latest ruling.

She said two animals from Patty's Angels had to be euthanized. The others, she said, were adopted out.
Source: Daily Freeman - March 6, 2008
Update posted on Mar 7, 2008 - 2:16AM 
The owner of the Patty's Angels animal shelter on Whitfield Road has agreed to let dozens of animals seized from her facility be put up for adoption.

Patty Abezis agreed after a hearing this week in Rochester Town Court to not contest the adoption of approximately 70 animals, mostly cats and dogs, according to Julie West, director of the Ulster County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

"It's great news," West said.

The animals have been housed in various shelters in Ulster County since Rochester Town Justice Albert S. Babcock III ordered them seized from Abezis in June because of neglect.

The seizure order included a provision that all subsequent adoptions had to be approved by Abezis, but her decision this week made that provision moot.

Abezis, 51, of 412 Whitfield Road, Accord, was convicted in April of 38 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty and her assistant at the shelter, Tracey Ann Pennington, 47, also of 412 Whitfield Road, was found guilty on six counts.

Specifically, the charges against Abezis and Pennington alleged they failed to provide proper sustenance to the animals.

Both women were sentenced last month to three years of probation. They were allowed to keep personal pets, but the terms of the probation include periodic unannounced inspection visits by the Ulster County Probation Department and the SPCA.

Abezis and Pennington also were ordered to undergo mental health evaluations and perform 40 hours of community service in an animal shelter.
Source: The Daily Freeman - Nov 5, 2005
Update posted on Nov 7, 2005 - 6:16PM 
Approximately 80 dogs, cats and other domestic animals living at Patty's Angels, a controversial animal shelter in Accord, were removed Friday night by order of the Town of Rochester Justice Court.

Patty Abezis, 51, and her assistant, Tracey Ann Pennington, 47, both of 412 Whitfield Road, Accord, were found guilty after a jury trial in early May in the same court of failure to provide proper sustenance and failure to provide proper food and drink to an impounded animal, misdemeanors under the state Agriculture and Markets Law.

"Abezis is allowed to keep one personal pet. All the other animals are being moved out of there tonight," Ulster County Assistant District Attorney Gerard Van Loan, who prosecuted the case, said. He said they presented evidence compiled by the Ulster SPCA that the two defendants had continued to fail to supply the needs of the animals.

Judge Albert S. Babcock III had originally denied Van Loan's motion that the animals at Patty's Angels be seized immediately upon her conviction. But Julie West, executive director of the Ulster County SPCA, said at the time, "We are continuing to monitor the situation." She said SPCA staff planned to continue to go to the property twice a week to make sure Abezis is not taking in any more animals and that the ones she still has are being treated properly.

Van Loan said that West and the SPCA made good on their promise to monitor the situation, and that Abezis was not taking care of the critters. "Ms. West and her people found that 80 percent of the animals have lost significant amounts of weight since the May conviction," he said. "One of the animals had lost 32 pounds, another had lost 18. These are dogs, not very large animals."

The seizure of the animals was done under the supervision of the Ulster County SPCA and the animals will be held at shelters and agencies throughout the region. Abezis has not forfeited ownership: that would not happen until sentencing, if at all. Van Loan said any of the animals may be adopted, however, with the approval of the judge.

Van Loan said the hearing took more than an hour. "Judge Babcock took the time to review pictures and video footage supplied by Abezis in her defense." He said Abezis was represented by Robert Zaccheo and Pennington by Sarah Rakov.

Abezis and Pennington will be sentenced July 6. The maximum allowable sentence is one year on each count and a fine up to $1,000.

Abezis and Pennington were arrested in November 2002 after a search of the property by Ulster County Sheriff's detectives found 92 dogs, 24 cats, and numerous rabbits and hens all without food and water. In addition, the facility was contaminated with feces and standing water, detectives said.

The case attracted attention from animal rights activists from as far away as California.

Two previous trials of Abezis and Pennington ended in mistrials. Abezis blamed her arrest and the ensuing legal wranglings on a former employee who she said neglected the animals over a weekend when she was out of town.
Source: Daily Freeman - June 11, 2004
Update posted on Jun 11, 2005 - 11:57AM 
The owner of Patty's Angels animal shelter is being allowed to keep the animals she was convicted of neglecting - for now.
Patty Abezis, 51, of 412 Whitfield Road, Accord, was found guilty on Friday in Rochester Town Court on 38 counts of animal neglect. Her assistant, Tracey Ann Pennington, 47, same address, was convicted on six counts. Each count carries a maximum penalty of one year behind bars. The two women are to be sentenced in July.

After a jury convicted Abezis and Pennington, town of Rochester Justice Albert S. Babcock III rejected a motion by Ulster County Assistant Attorney Gerard Van Loan that the animals at Patty's Angels be seized.

Schufeldt said she was aware of the situation at Patty's Angels as far back as 2000 and that the conditions at the shelter were deplorable.

Babcock did order, however, that Abezis not take in any more animals and that none be removed from the property, according to Julie West, executive director of the Ulster County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Source: DailyFreemand.com - May 5, 2005
Update posted on May 6, 2005 - 7:13AM 
The owner of the Patty's Angels animal shelter on Whitfield Road in the town of Rochester was convicted Friday on 38 counts of animal neglect. Her assistant was found guilty of six counts.

Patricia Aline Abezis, 51, and her assistant, Tracey Ann Pennington, 47, were convicted of failure to provide proper sustenance and failure to provide proper food and drink to an impounded animal, misdemeanors under the state Agriculture and Markets Law.

The verdict came at the end of a jury trial in Rochester Town Court, according to Town Justice Albert S. Babcock III, who presided.

Abezis and Pennington are to be sentenced July 6. The maximum allowable sentence is one year on each count.

Abezis and Pennington were arrested in November 2002 after a search of the shelter property by Ulster County sheriff's detectives found 92 dogs, 24 cats and numerous rabbits and hens all without food and water. In addition, the facility was contaminated with feces and standing water, detectives said.

Abezis and Pennington were indicted on 116 misdemeanor counts of failure to provide sustenance to an animal.

Thirty animals were seized and taken to the Ulster County SPCA facility in the town of Ulster, but about 100 animals remained with Abezis as she and Pennington fought the charges in Rochester Town Court.

Two previous trials of Abezis and Pennington, in June 2004 and March 2005, ended in mistrials. One mistrial was caused by a change in defense counsel, the other by a lack of jurors.
Source: dailyfreeman.com - April 30, 2005
Update posted on Apr 30, 2005 - 6:59PM 
More than two years after neglect charges were filed against the operator of a sanctuary for homeless and abused animals here, the case has yet to go to trial.

A few of the most seriously ill animals were removed, while the rest, some 116, were placed in custody of the SPCA but allowed to remain at the Whitfield Road sanctuary due to a lack of space at the agency's shelter. Abezis was barred from taking in any more animals and ordered to submit to regular inspections of the sanctuary by police and SPCA officials.

Two years later, the case remains in Rochester Town Court following repeated delays due to changes in defense counsel and, in one case, a lack of jurors.

District Attorney Donald A. Williams said his office was ready for trial but was unable to control the delays at Rochester Town Court. Williams pointed to his assignment of a full-time assistant district attorney, rather than the part-time attorneys who usually handle town court cases, as evidence that his office was taking the neglect charges seriously.

At the SPCA, meanwhile, Campbell says inspections are hampered by a court order that requires all law-enforcement and animal control officials to give Abezis two hours' notice before coming onto the property and forbids them from entering the farmhouse, where investigators observed at least 20 dogs confined to small training crates in November 2002.

A visit to the sanctuary reveals a cleaner, more orderly looking place than in 2003. Employee Walter Relyea said there now are between 45 and 50 animals at the sanctuary and that he had seen no new animals taken in since he began working there in May. Relyea, who declined to allow a visitor to enter the house or see the kennels in Abezis' absence, said major improvements to electrical, heating and other systems had been done or were under way.

Relyea said that the only animals that had been taken in were boarded there for short periods of time by owners who had adopted them from the shelter.

Abezis blames her arrest on a former employee who neglected the animals over a weekend when she was out of town. Abezis said she continues to rescue animals but that all of them are kept at foster homes and none enter her property.
Source: Daily Freeman - Jan 14, 2005
Update posted on Jan 14, 2005 - 1:43AM 

References

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