One by one, 15 pit bulls were led from the windswept woods and into dog crates Monday.
The canines were plucked from a piece of land off Tolgate Road in Warwick. "They were kept outside, so it wasn't adequate conditions for them, seeing they don't have much hair," said Ann Corvin of the city's animal shelter. "I understand some of the dogs were chained to trees and not necessarily having shelter, others were chained to shelters. I was horrified, it was incredulous that anything like that could happen," added City Council President Bruce Place.
Place said constituents alerted him to a possible problem late last week and he after the weekend blizzard he dropped a dime to police. On Monday afternoon police and animal control officers acted.
The dog’s owner, identified by police as Clifford Dennis, was seen confronting officers, at one point yelling, "You’re stealing my dogs." All 15 are now at the city's animal shelter and the director says they're in good health and will most likely go up for adoption.
For city councilor Place, this is how government can do well. "It's been a nice Christmas for me because I know 15 animals are alive today because we took some action."
Update January 25, 2011 11:50am - The following article is by John Howell, Warwick Beacon:
City drops 1 count, pursues charges on lack of shelter for pit bulls rescued from blizzard
Clifford Dennis says he will find homes for the 15 pit pulls police rescued from a wooded area near Kent Hospital during the Dec. 27 blizzard, but that doesn’t let him off charges that the dogs weren’t properly sheltered under city law. If found guilty, he faces fines of $100 per dog.
Dennis, 47, who last gave his address as 66 Potowomut Road, appeared Thursday evening before Municipal Court Judge Joel Gerstenblatt on a multitude of charges including not having the dogs licensed, not having them vaccinated and having more than three dogs in violation of city ordinances. Attorney Joseph Patriarca represented him.
Gerstenblatt dismissed the charge on having more than three dogs on grounds that the ordinance refers to keeping them in a domicile. The former Allen Farm where Dennis had the dogs chained to stakes beside meager shelters is not his property. There is a vacant house and a trailer on the land, but technically not a dwelling premise as defined by the law, city prosecutor Kerry Rafanelli explained after the hearing.
“This is a gray area. They were in a field, not a dwelling,” he said.
City Council President Bruce Place, who brought the complaint against Dennis on Dec. 27, was disappointed that the charges on having more than three dogs was dropped. Yet, he said, had action not been taken during the blizzard, the outcome for the animals, especially given this week’s frigid conditions may have been far worse.
“This could be a blessing in disguise before some real tragedy happened,” he said.
As for the law, Place is looking for a review of all city pet ordinances for the purpose of its intent and if it requires amendment or new legislation. On a broader scale, he said he would be talking with Rep. Jan Malik of Warren this week.
“If nothing else, all of this publicity has focused our eyes on some problems we can fix,” he said.
He said Malik is interested in the uniformity of state code as it applies to the cruelty of animals in particular.
Dennis provided documents after Dec. 27 showing that the dogs had been vaccinated and that they were due booster rabies shots as of last Friday, the day following the court hearing. Rafanelli said neither the charges on licensing nor vaccination would be dropped until Dennis could show the dogs had been licensed and vaccinated.
As explained to Gernstenblatt by Sgt. Robert Rocco, Dennis will be permitted to pick up three dogs at a time from the Animal Shelter as he proves he meets the licensing and vaccination requirements.
Asked after the hearing where he plans to take the animals, Dennis said he has already had a number of requests to adopt the dogs, including some from Warwick police officers. He said he intends to keep three of the pit bulls and that they would be located on the Allen property. He has told police he serves as a caretaker for the land and that he is allowed to cut wood there.
“I have a lot of people who want dogs,” Dennis said.
Some of the pit bulls have already been adopted from the Animal Shelter. Rocco said Dennis agreed to the adoption of two dogs.
Dennis countered negative publicity that has surrounded the incident, pointing out, as police and the shelter have said, that the dogs are healthy. He also maintained that the straw in their shelters provided insulation from the cold and that chains were 14 feet long, not the six feet as reported.
Rocco questioned the adequacy of the shelters. He said they were so small that a dog could not find protection from the cold. In addition, he said police found no food or water when they took the animals.
“They didn’t need vet care,” Dennis said to support his contention that the dogs were well cared for. He also said the trailer and the house on the Allen property had heat, a contention questioned by Rocco.
The city’s case on the charge of improperly sheltering the dogs hinges on specifications of the law relating to time, food and water and temperature as defined as being “beyond a weather safety scale” as set by the Tufts Animal Care and Conditions Scale. Under the law, the city will need to show that Dennis kept the dogs tethered without access to adequate shelter, water and food for more than 30 minutes. The Tufts scale takes into consideration a dog’s size, whether it is longhaired or shorthaired and its body fat.
A trial on the sheltering of the dogs is set for Feb. 17 at 6 p.m.