MAT-SU—Monday, dog breeder Frank Rich was sentenced to six months in custody and ordered not to own or care for an animal for ten years. Last January the rescue of 174 of his Huskies overwhelmed Mat-Su Animal Care, and his mistreatment of them drew outcry from across Alaska to the western states. “This is a massive failure to meet any standard of reasonable care,” Borough Attorney Nicholas Spiropoulos told Alaska District Court Judge David Zwink, before the sentencing. “This defendant is not fit to own a hamster.”
Rich pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, with 48 counts dismissed. The prosecution of misdemeanor animal cruelty cases is rare in the Mat-Su Borough and is not handled by the Borough. The State District Attorney prosecutes these cases, but the Borough was on hand to provide evidence. Borough staff was pleased with the prosecution and the Judge’s ruling. The court can do what the Borough cannot: sentence to jail time and prohibit the freedom to own animals.
“For the staff who worked tirelessly saving many of those dogs’ lives, we are very grateful for the decision of the court,” said Borough Animal Care Manager Phil Morgan. “Hopefully, the Rich case has set the standard that all other animal cruelty cases will be compared against. The fact that the judge agreed with the prosecutor’s opinion of mandatory jail time and, most importantly, that Rich cannot own or care for an animal for ten years, sends a strong message that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated in Alaska,” Morgan said
The Borough is seeking nearly $60,000 in restitution, far less than the costs the Borough incurred. The court has not yet decided the amount. Rich said in court he could not afford to feed his dogs.
Last January 10, Borough Animal Care officers served a search warrant with Alaska State Troopers at Rich’s home in the Montana Creek area. What they found were dead dogs piled in a container van, emaciated dogs on chains, and thirsty, thin puppies, which ultimately led to the District Attorney’s office stepping in and taking the case. The tally: 174 dogs were taken to Animal Care, 19 dead dogs were found on site. More puppies were born at the shelter.
The influx of so many dogs at once was unprecedented at the Mat-Su Shelter. Volunteers and staff worked 19 hour days initially. For dogs that came in starving, Veterinarian Katrina Zwolinski measured progress in ounces.
“As disheartened as we all were with the sad condition of the dogs while we struggled to rehabilitate them, we were so grateful for the outpouring of support from the community. Without it we wouldn’t have been able to take the time or provide the type of care that led to the vast majority of these dogs being placed in loving homes,” Zwolinski said.
Donations, including labor and items, came in from all corners of the state, including airfare from major airlines to adopt some of the Huskies to rescue groups out-of-state.
Carol Vardeman, with the Borough Manager’s office, was at the center of a storm of inquiries from media and well-wishers last January.
“Now that the court case is closed it’s great to finally be able to thank everyone for the generosity. This case took a lot out of Officer Darla Erskine and Dr. Zwolinski. Support from staff, volunteers, and the public kept us going,” Vardeman said.
For more information call Animal Care Manager Phillip Morgan 907.761-7505 or Dr. Zwolinksi at 746-5500.
Photos at the Rich dog lot by Officer Darla Erskine/MSB.