Prosecutors have dismissed 11 charges of animal cruelty after a judge’s ruling found that the treatment of 11 puppies found in a hot trailer did not constitute animal torture.
Michaela D. Wilkie, 37, had been facing a possible sentence of up to 11 years in prison and $11,000 in fines if convicted on the criminal charges. But the state has now referred the case for civil action and state police have served Wilkie with a civil complaint for animal cruelty which carries a fine-only penalty.
Wilkie surrendered the puppies after the charges were filed and all have since been adopted into new homes.
In August of 2018 Wilkie pleaded not guilty to 11 misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals by leaving a mother dog and her 10 puppies in a residence on a 92-degree day.
The dogs were seized from Wilkie’s residence at 66 Avenue D in St. Johnsbury on July 5 after state police responded to a report of dogs inside the residence that were suffering due to a lack of air conditioning.
Police removed the puppies and placed them in their air conditioned cruisers and called in animal rescue workers. The dogs survived but veterinarian Melora Hunt told investigators that the dogs were suffering from heat stroke and that in her opinion what happened to the dogs amounted to “torture,” according to the report.
But defense attorney Laura Wilson of Lyndonville challenged the allegations saying Wilkie did not intend to cause the puppies pain and argued that the facts of the case did not support the charge of “torture” under the law.
Judge Robert Bent agreed and granted Wilson’s motion to dismiss all the charges.
“The court does not believe that the facts of this case are sufficient to meet the intent element inherent in an allegation of torture,” wrote Bent in his ruling. “The elements of neglect are met but not of any intention to inflict wanton pain…”
The state briefly re-filed charges against Wilkie but then dismissed them recently in favor of the civil action.
According to an affidavit filed by Vermont State Police Trooper Matt Tarricone, home care worker Sarah Brill told police she came to the residence weekly and knew Wilkie’s dog had just had puppies, that Wilkie wasn’t home and that there was no air conditioner inside. Brill said she called police only after she tried and failed to contact Wilkie by cell phone. Police said they also tried calling Wilkie but couldn’t make contact with her.
Tarricone, in his report, said he could hear the dogs inside the home but did not see any air conditioners in the windows which were open about three inches each in the 92 degree heat.
“It should be noted that this was approximately the 6th day of a severe heat wave in the area and there were heat warnings all over the news, for the entire week,” wrote Tarricone.
Police contacted Wilkie’s landlord, Johny Lopez, who told them Wilkie was already being evicted for lease violations that included having too many dogs in her residence.
Lopez opened the door for police who entered to rescue the dogs and located the mixed breed mother dog and her 10 puppies nearby in a rectangular wooden box not moving but “breathing heavy,” according to the report.