ST. ALBANS — On Thursday, Feb. 5, law enforcement, local officials, and animal rescue staff arrived at the home of Randall Sheperd, 53, of Richford, with a warrant to remove dogs believed to be suffering from extreme neglect.
It was not the first time dogs had been removed from the Sheperd residence. Two emaciated dogs were taken from an unheated trailer at his home in December 2013.
Rescuers expected they would find two or three dogs, according to Richford Selectman Chris Martel, who handles animal control issues on behalf of the selectboard. Instead, they found seven females and one male.
“Some of them were pretty emaciated,” said Martel, who along with Tracie Ovitt, Richford’s animal control officer, was part of the team that went to Sheperd’s home.
One of the dogs, named “Bunny” by the staff of the Franklin County Animal Rescue (formerly Franklin County Humane Society) shelter, weighed just 15 pounds and 15 ounces, according to shelter director Rusty Posner. Posner said a healthy weight for Bunny would be at least 35 pounds.
“She has no muscle tone whatsoever,” said Posner.
One of the dogs was chained outside on the porch where it huddled under an old blanket, according to Martel.
Two others were chained in an unheated basement while a fourth was in an unheated garage.
Most of the females showed signs of having been bred, but there was no indication of where the puppies were, said Martel.
All of the dogs are being cared for at the animal shelter here in St. Albans. Unless Sheperd agrees to surrender the dogs, the shelter is limited in what it can do for them, explained Posner. It can provide needed health care, but the dogs have limited access to the outdoors and can only be walked by paid staff.
Volunteers can’t interact with the dogs, and the dogs cannot be allowed to play with other dogs. “They are really prisoners and they have not been charged with a crime,” said Posner.
The dogs cannot be spayed or neutered unless Sheperd surrenders ownership or has it stripped from him by the court, and Bunny has gone into heat. Although she is recovering and has gained 12 pounds under the shelter’s careful feeding regimen, the situation is still hard for her physically, according to Posner. Another of the dogs is pregnant.
Because they are in legal limbo, the dogs must spend most of their time in kennels. “We get in their kennels with them,” said Posner.
According to Posner and Martel, Vermont State Police have confirmed that Shepard has been cited to appear in court on March 30. Franklin County State’s Attorney Jim Hughes today said he was awaiting paperwork from police before determining the full extent of possible charges.
Two of the dogs taken this month are the siblings of the two dogs taken in 2013, named Notorious and Chance by shelter staff.
Sheperd maintained those dogs belonged to his daughter, Casey, 20. The dogs were described at the time they were taken as emaciated and near death. One of the dogs was so starved it could not move, according to court records.
He was charged with animal cruelty, given an 18-month deferred sentence and ordered to appear before the reparative board and make restitution.
Sheperd was given the standard conditions of probation but was not prevented from owning animals.
Casey Sheperd was barred from owning animals. She, too, was given a deferred sentence.
That case was costly for the Town of Richford, which had approximately $1,600 in vet bills and other costs, according to Martell.
The dogs confiscated two years ago were at the shelter from Dec. 16, 2013 to June 9, 2014, at a cost of $20 per day per dog. The shelter only asks towns to pay a flat $50 fee per animal when the shelter takes in a neglected or abused animal confiscated by the town, explained Posner.
Things turned out well for Notorious and Chance, who were adopted by the same family and are now “living the life of Riley,” according to Posner. Their new family has kept in touch with the shelter, providing photos and updates about the dogs.
When the newest case against Sheperd is resolved, these dogs will need new homes, said Posner. Before being put up for adoption the dogs will be spayed or neutered, socialized to interact with humans and other animals, and will have their temperament tested, she explained.