Sunday, July 17, 2011

Chambersburg man reunited with 3 pit bulls after plea deal

By Jim Tuttle, Public Opinion

A Chambersburg man who had his three pit bulls taken away last month amid allegations of animal cruelty has gotten them back after making a plea deal.
"I'm excited," Michael Stewart said Friday after returning home from Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter, Chambersburg, with his dogs, Remy, Roxy and Duchess. "I'm going to take them out to the park for a little while."
Stewart pleaded guilty to one summary count of keeping a dog on a tether that was too short, according to Franklin County Humane Police Officer Floyd "Buck" Hessler. Three cruelty citations based on allegations that Stewart provided inadequate shelter, failed to provide adequate water and allowed a dog to be physically abused were all dropped.
Hessler said the arrangement was based on an agreement made Friday through Stewart's attorney, Mark Orndorf. Stewart was fined $100 for the tethering violation and agreed to pay $990 restitution for the dogs' care at the shelter since they were seized from his home on June 22.
"I want to thank Cumberland Valley shelter for taking care of them," Stewart said. "They were in great health when I got them back, as they were when I gave them up."
Hessler seized the pit bulls after a neighbor contacted him about alleged cruelty taking place at Stewart's home, 711 Broad St. He said the neighbor provided video footage of a boy kicking one of the dogs and hitting it with a plastic baseball bat.
Before agreeing to settle the case outside of a summary trial before Magisterial District Judge Gary Carter, Hessler inspected Stewart's home. He said the man has cleaned up his property, brought the shelters up to code and rigged the water dishes so they couldn't be inadvertently dumped out. "He did make all necessary corrections to have the dogs back," Hessler said. "I told him, 'Remember, people are going to be watching you.' He said he would be keeping his dogs in the house."
Hessler added that if Stewart is charged with animal cruelty and convicted at any time in the future, the offense would be automatically upgraded to a first-degree misdemeanor, which could entail jail time.
When he was interviewed following the seizure, Stewart said the charges were the unfounded result of a meddling neighbor and that he is an animal lover. He said the video actually depicted his 8-year-old son "training" the dogs not to fight with each other.
On Friday he said he was just happy to have the animals back, and that he considers them beloved members of his family.
"You gotta fight for what's yours," Stewart said. "Whether it's your freedom or your family."

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