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|Barked: Thu Mar 30, '06 10:25pm PST |
|Three young children removed from their home during an investigation of animal cruelty remain in foster care, and state officials say their investigation into the children's welfare is complete, but confidential.
James Montgomery, the children's father, was charged this week with 55 counts of failure to provide necessary sustenance, a misdemeanor offense, after 64 dogs were removed from his home in Kahalu'u on Saturday. He had been operating a dog-breeding business.
The Humane Society had been working with the family for two weeks to improve living conditions for the animals and was rechecking the premises Tuesday when an accompanying police officer made a judgment call that conditions were endangering the children's welfare.
Yesterday, a spokesman at the state Department of Human Services would not say what steps the agency will take concerning the children, citing privacy laws.
"Our investigation is completed and the kids are still in foster custody," Derick Dahilig said.
The department had 72 hours to complete its investigation, Dahilig said. Once that was done, it could come to several alternative conclusions, including returning the children to their home, petitioning the court to keep them in foster care, and sending them home with the offer of services, he said.
The family's attorney, Melodie Aduja, said she is optimistic about the outcome after meeting with human-services representatives Thursday and expects a positive outcome.
"Based on what had transpired yesterday, I feel it was a good meeting and we're very hopeful that the children will be returned to the family," Aduja said.
Montgomery said the events have been difficult for the family and referred questions to Aduja.
"We're trying to do the best we can," Montgomery said at his home yesterday. "It's been stressful."
About two dozen volunteers from The Salvation Army and Possibility Place Christian Fellowship and Ministry worked Thursday to clean up the property and the house, removing a truckload of debris, Aduja said. More volunteers are expected over the weekend to continue the cleanup.
Meanwhile, there was no update from the Hawaiian Humane Society concerning the 64 dogs removed from the home on Mahakea Road. A report is expected to be completed in about two weeks, and that file would then be forwarded to the city prosecutor's office.
The Hawaiian Humane Society said living conditions for the animals on Montgomery's property, a single acre of land, included inadequate access to water and shelter.
James Montgomery was convicted of animal cruelty last month, but he was also given a second chance to find his pets another home.
On Wednesday, custody of over 30 dogs taken from Montgomery would have been turned over to the Hawaiian Humane Society, but before the deadline he's been able to sell off most of those animals.
While Montgomery says he's sad to see the dogs go, he is also feeling the pain in his pocket.
The former dog breeder says, "We took a great loss, because the pups that were born here are no longer pups and are much less valuable when they're first sold as puppies."
But he says, ads in the paper, and lots of phone calls have still brought in some to buy the dogs.
By his estimates, what could have brought in $40-50,000 only resulted in sales of several thousand.
But the Hawaiian Humane Society - which has cared for the dogs over the past year and spent over a quarter million dollars in expenses -- feels the money should not go to Montgomery.
"He was guilty of animal cruelty and I don't think he should profit off the dogs he abused," says Darcie Scharfenstein at the Hawaiian Humane Society.
Montgomery was charged with 55 counts of animal cruelty, charges he pled guilty to.
Over 60 animals were taken from the filthy conditions, and nurtured at the Humane Society.
As the dogs go to their new homes, there's also bittersweet feeling from the Humane Society workers who had their hopes for happy adoptions.
Scharfenstein says, "Here at the Humane Society, our hope was that we would have had custody and placed them in the right homes."
Montgomery was allowed to sell of the dogs he abused because as the law stands, people aren't forced to forfeit, even if they're convicted of cruelty, but the Hawaiian Humane Society hopes legislation passed this year will change that.
After spending more than $260,000 to house, train and care for 64 pets taken in an animal cruelty case last year, the Hawaiian Humane Society was hoping the animals could be put up for adoption. Instead, Judge Rhonda Nishimura returned the dogs to James Montgomery, of Mahakea Road in Kahalu'u, after accepting Montgomey's deferred guilty plea on 55 counts of animal cruelty in Circuit Court. The deferred plea means a defendant's record may be wiped clean if he or she abides by the conditions of the court for one year, the judge said.
Montgomery and his wife, Susan, also pleaded guilty to three counts of child endangerment. Jacque Smith, spokeswoman for the humane society, disagreed with the ruling to return the dogs to Montgomery. "This is a major disservice to the animals who are the victims, to the foster-care providers, and to everyone who has worked so hard to protect these animals," Smith said.
Smith was critical of the judge for letting the case drag on for a year while the dogs' lives remained in limbo and the humane society care bill mounted. The humane society had wanted the judge to grant the agency the power to put the animals up for adoption to ensure that they would not become part of what she said was Montgomery's breeding machine. She said the imminent return of the animals is disappointing because Montgomery can place the dogs with family or friends and later retrieve them to continue his
questionable breeding practices.
Montgomery, an 11th-grade English teacher, has 21 days to retrieve the dogs, get them licenses and relinquish ownership, according to the judge's office. More than 30 of his animals are with the humane society, about 20 are in foster care homes that the humane society coordinated and 12 are at the Kaua'i Humane Society. Montgomery's attorney William Harrison said his client plans to sell the
dogs to help pay for the fines and costs related to the case. "He wants to sell or place all the dogs at this point because it's a sore
spot," Harrison said. "He really wants to distance himself from the animals at this point."
Nishimura's ruling included a $3,025 fine to be paid to a crime victims' fund, a $5,500 fine and a $1,500 fine for each in the child endangerment case. In addition, the Montgomerys were ordered to undergo mental health assessment and treatment, parenting classes, 180 days suspended jail time and disposition of the dogs, said Kristine Yoo, deputy prosecutor. "I was asking for no animals on the property but the judge limited it to no dogs in the residence," Yoo said, adding she also called for actual jail time.
The Montgomerys decided to plead guilty to save their family from further embarrassment and are relieved to get the cases resolved, Harrison said. "He received an enormous amount of publicity and the family went through a lengthy period of embarrassment and humiliation, which has now resurfaced," Harrison said. "They at least see this is going to put an end to the
publicity aspect of it but they have a lot of healing to do."
The humane society had wanted Montgomery to pay for the care of the animals, but Harrison said the costs are inflated and include the organization's operating cost. The judge denied the humane society's request after Harrison argued that Montgomery had requested the return of the animals and the shelter's decision to take the dogs carried the responsibility of feeding them, Harrison said. Smith said the humane society has proposed a bill for this year's Legislature to require unfit pet owners to post a bond for the care of their animals or relinquish ownership of the animals so they can be placed in homes. "That way (the animals') lives are not left in limbo for a year or however long the case drags out," she said.
Harrison said his client has learned his lesson. "He really learned a lot about what his family means to him, what his
responsibilities are to his family and not to put them in this situation again," he said.
A Windward Oahu dog breeder pleaded guilty to 55 counts of animal cruelty. The punishment he received has seriously disappointed the Hawaiian Humane Society. The dogs have been in the custody of the Hawaiian Humane Society since then at an estimated cost of $250,000. Montgomery has been ordered to pay a fine of $5,500 -- $100 per count -- and was given one year of probation.
"Mr. Montgomery has 21 days to work with us to either sell the dogs or give them away to other people. He's not allowed to have dogs on his property for the next year," said Linda Haller, of the Hawaiian Humane Society.
Judge Rhonda Nishimura ruled that Montgomery does not have to reimburse the Humane Society for costs incurred to care for the dogs. The Humane Society could take civil action to try to recover those monies. "This man plead to 55 counts of animal cruelty. He used delay tactics, which resulted in us having to care for these animals for close to a year's time. And for the judge to have then accepted the guilty plea for 55 counts of animal cruelty and then not turn the custody of those same animals over to us for our continued protection and disposition, I just don't understand. I don't understand the logic at all," HHS Director Pamela Burns said.
The Hawaiian Humane Society has asked that the ruling be reconsidered.
A dog breeder accused of 55 counts of animal cruelty will go to court on January 10, 2006 to answer those charges.
James Montgomery and his wife Susan each pleaded guilty on January 9, 2006 to three counts of child endangerment. The Montgomerys' three children were taken into state custody after the Hawaiian Humane Society raided their Kahaluu home in January. The society seized 64 animals from the home, after receiving complaints from neighbors about a bad smell coming from the property. Workers found filthy conditions there, including feces and urine everywhere.
After they pleaded guilty to child endangerment, each received one year of probation and a $1,500 fine.
Trial date was set for the week of May 31 before Circuit Judge Rhonda Nishimura. The lawyer for James Montgomery, a school teacher and dog breeder, said a motion to return all the animals or allow visitation will be filed in Nishimura's court. A hearing could be within two to three weeks.
Montgomery, charged with 55 counts of animal cruelty after the Hawaiian Humane Society removed 64 dogs from his home last month, has requested a jury trial.
The animal cruelty case against James Montgomery of Mahakea Road will be heard in Circuit Court. He was given a March 21 arraignment date, but his attorney William Harrison said he will seek an April court appearance.
Montgomery, a schoolteacher, was at work and not present at Kane'ohe District Court yesterday.
The Humane Society removed the dogs from his kennel Jan. 30 after determining conditions were unacceptable. Two days later, a police officer took three minor children from the home, saying living conditions were endangering their welfare. The children were turned over to Child Welfare Services and are still in foster care.
Montgomery initially was represented by attorney Melodie Aduja, who had said the removal of the 64 dogs was not lawful and demanded the return of the animals.
With the limited space at the Humane Society, Harrison said, he and Montgomery wonder about the organization's ability to house the extra dogs, one of which died shortly after birth at the shelter.
"To tell you the truth, some of the animals I see down there are not very well treated," Harrison said. He said he will file a motion to request visitation rights or the return of the dogs.
Jacque Smith, Humane Society spokeswoman, said the Montgomery dogs are being treated well and most are in foster homes where families play with them and are teaching the dogs to walk while leashed.
"They are also becoming better socialized and learning to enjoy human companionship," Smith said. "We're still treating health conditions because some of these animals came in with healthcare issues like mange."
Source: The Honolulu Advertiser - March 9, 2005
Update posted on Mar 14, 2005 - 2:00AM
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Attorney Melodie Aduja, who represents dog breeder James Montgomery, said state and city officials failed to obtain the necessary search warrant to gain access to the Montgomery property last week. Aduja said she would be filing a request in court to suppress all evidence obtained during the search.
Jacque Smith, Humane Society spokeswoman, said the seizure followed legal procedures.
"Our main priorities are to ensure that the animals are well cared for and to complete our investigation," Smith said. "We certainly take great care to ensure that our investigation processes and procedures are in compliance with all applicable laws."
Aduja also said the removal of 64 dogs from Montgomery's Kahalu'u kennel by the Hawaiian Humane Society was not lawful and she demanded the return of the animals. The Hawaiian Humane Society removed the dogs Jan. 29 and returned two days later with police officers to search for more animals, but none were found.
A police officer accompanying the Humane Society on the second visit decided that the living conditions were endangering the welfare of three children residing there and removed them from the home. The children were turned over to state Child Welfare Services officials.
The Montgomerys were to appear in Family Court yesterday, but proceedings there are confidential. The family had no comment on the case, Aduja said.
At a news conference at the Humane Society yesterday, Aduja said the initial visit to the property by the Humane Society, Department of Health Vector Control and the city Department of Planning and Permitting was done without a search warrant.
Aduja said the Humane Society used trickery to gain access to the property and although police had time to obtain a search warrant for the children, police failed to do so.
"Based on the unlawful activities of the agencies involved, the family is urging that the prosecutor's office not accept this case for further action, that the children be reunited with their parents as soon as possible and the animals be returned to the family immediately," she said.
Aduja yesterday delivered a letter of demands to the Hawaiian Humane Society asking for an inventory of all animals and items seized and the whereabouts of each animal. She also wants reasonable visitation, inspections and photographs of each animal to ensure the animals' safety and health.
The Humane Society is reviewing the requests, said Smith.
The organization makes a list of the animals it confiscates as a matter of procedure, she said. The Humane Society did have a search warrant when it removed the dogs, the organization said.
The Humane Society has said the organization had tried to work with Montgomery for two weeks before the seizure, but was unable to get the conditions improved.