ATLANTA - A Hillman area woman pleaded guilty to a count of animal cruelty or abandonment and a count of killing or torturing animals after police took 37 dogs and six miniature horses from her property.
Jennifer Elen Tucker-Richard, 35, could spend four years in prison, do 500 hours of community service or pay a $5,000 fine for the two felony counts stemming from an incident in January when Montmorency County sheriff's deputies confiscated the animals. All were suffering from a lack of basic care, and had no food, drinkable water or proper shelter, according to a release from the department.
Tucker-Richard pleaded guilty to negligently allowing 10 or more animals to suffer unnecessary neglect torture or pain, as 26th Circuit Court Judge Michael Mack described the charge. She also pleaded guilty to committing a reckless act knowing, or having reason to know, that the act would cause an animal to be killed, tortured, mutilated or maimed. She likely will be ordered not to own or posess any animals following her sentencing on April 22.
News Photo by Jordan Travis
Jennifer Elen Tucker-Richard, left, stands with attorney James Schmier before giving her plea to 26th Circuit Court Judge Michael Mack Monday. She pleaded guilty to one count of animal cruelty or abandonment and one count of animal torturing or killing, and could spend up to four years in prison.
Originally, Tucker-Richard stood mute on five charges, but changed her plea after her attorney, James Schmier, spoke with Montmorency County Prosecutor Terrie Case and Mack about a plea agreement. In exchange for her guilty plea, the court dropped an additional animal abandonment or cruelty charge, and two counts of using a computer to commit a crime.
Tucker-Richard admitted she was negligent in caring for the animals, telling the court she did know they were cold. One dog nearly froze to death due to the extreme temperatures on Jan. 24 and lack of provisions for the dog.
"Is it accurate to say that the weather was below zero?" Case asked Tucker-Richard.
"It was very cold," she replied.
While Tucker-Richard exposed the animals to conditions they shouldn't have been, she didn't torture them, Schmier said after the court proceedings. She has no criminal history, and was selling the dogs to make some money.
"This is not an evil lady, this is not Michael Vick. This is not somebody breeding pit bulls so they can kill each other," he said.
After being confiscated by police, the dogs were taken to Elk Country Animal Shelter and the horses were taken to a farm near Atlanta, shelter Director Pauline Hancock said. She had helped deputies take in the animals, and said in January that a number of the dogs were covered in feces, while others had blood on their paws from clawing apart roadkill deer they'd been given for food. Many had parasites, and some had skin conditions from the unsanitary conditions.
Since then, volunteers have cleaned and treated the dogs, Hancock said. The dog that nearly died of hypothermia has recovered, although some of the canines still have skin issues.
The shelter can now accept applications for adoptions for the dogs, and will start getting them spayed and neutered, Hancock said. There has been considerable interest in the dogs since the news broke in January, and many have donated to the shelter to help volunteers nurse them back to health.
"The community has really come forward and stepped up to help with their care in terms of monetary donations, supplies and food," she said.
The horses are being cared for by Second Chance Ranch and Rescue, a Boyne City-based horse rescue operation, Executive Director Pamela Graves said. Anyone interested in adopting them can visit www.secondchanceranchandrescue.com to fill out an application.
Jordan Travis can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5688.