By FELICIA KRIEG
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Plattsburgh City Police Department has received $25,000 to pay for the vet bills of 19 puppies allegedly dumped in woods around Clinton County.
The donations have “drastically reduced the financial responsibility on the City of Plattsburgh,” Plattsburgh City Police Lt. Scott Beebie said Friday.
Beebie was unsure whether the $15,000 grant City Police secured from Elmore SPCA and the $10,000 raised from donations and fundraisers have covered all the vet bills, but City Police Chief Desmond Racicot had said in early August the bills had amounted to almost $20,000.
At that point, 17 of 24 puppies allegedly dropped off by Michael Staley, 36, of Plattsburgh had been found. He has been charged with 24 counts of animal abandonment.
His wife, Tammy Staley, 33, who owns Northern Puppies, is charged with 20 counts of animal cruelty in connection with her pet-store operation.
After at least one adjournment for each of them, the Staleys both have Plattsburgh City Court appearances scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Sept. 19.
Police say Mr. Staley admitted to dumping the 24 puppies in area woods and said he did it to avoid veterinarian bills since the animals were sick.
After his arrest on Aug. 7, he was arraigned and posted $15,000 cash bail.
A pet-dealer inspection report by two New York State Agriculture and Markets inspectors had described poor conditions at Northern Puppies before the Staleys’ arrests.
The inspectors rated the store in “non-compliant/critical condition” after the unannounced inspection they conducted with City Police on July 2. Police seized 16 sick cats that day.
In the isolation room in the back of the shop, inspectors found kittens “with large clumps of dried feces matted to and hanging from fur around the anal area and tails,” the report says.
Among the violations listed were: inadequate space; insufficient ventilation, with odors present; no proof of rabies vaccinations; no record of medications prescribed from a vet being administered to the animals; and no proof of vet care being given to the one kitten that was found dead in a cage next to a cat with a litter of four kittens.
Northern Puppies, the report said, also failed to keep proper records with the source, date and disposition of several animals.
In addition, according to the report, some customers were not given one or more of the following documents at the time of sale: a rabies notice, a standard form including the animal’s origin and registration numbers, proof of a dog license, a spay/neuter notice and consumer-rights paperwork.
MANY APPLIED FOR DOGS
While five of the puppies that were allegedly abandoned are still unaccounted for and presumed dead, 19 have been adopted.
City Police Patrolman Carmen Rotella is one recipient; he named his beagle/huskie mix puppy Dallas.
Racicot and Rotella wrangled good-naturedly about which one of them would apply to adopt the dog, and Rotella won.
But Racicot’s twin daughters, Toby and Gracie, both 9, fostered the puppy for three days.
“They’re heartbroken, but they will visit him,” the chief said. “I’m real proud of them.”
His daughters had named the pup Mason and weren’t thrilled about Rotella’s choice of a name, but they settled on a compromise.
Officially, it’s Dallas Mason Racicot Rotella, the chief said.
“But, I say Mason Dallas; Carmen says Dallas Mason.”
‘HURT AND DISAPPOINTED’
But it wasn’t a happy ending for everyone who wanted one of the rescued dogs.
After searching for four hours with his own dog, Max, Nicholas Stowe of Dannemora found one of the missing puppies, a Yorkshire terrier, hiding under a bucket off Peasleeville Road in Schuyler Falls.
“This dog kept looking up at me, almost to say, ‘Thank you.’ Every two minutes, he was looking up at me.”
Upon handing over the dog at City Police, Stowe said, he was told he would be first in line to adopt him.
In preparation for their new dog, he and his wife had given it a name and bought a crate, harness, leash, bed and training pads.
A week later, he found the dog had been given to someone else.
Stowe said he called Racicot to find out what had happened, and chief told him his application was denied because he had another dog already.
“My dog saved this puppy’s life,” Stowe said, as it was Max who detected the Yorkie under the bucket.
He said he checked with the people he had listed as references on his application for the puppy, and none had been called.
“Nobody was called to ask if my dog was an issue. We were really hurt and disappointed by it,” Stowe said. “You can’t help but feel an emotional attachment to the dog.
“I feel that this was extremely political. It was all ‘who knows who’ in the department. We were just brushed aside.”
Even so, Stowe said, he doesn’t want his troubles to shift the story away from Mr. Staley, who allegedly put the puppies in a dismal situation to begin with.
PLACED WITH CITY WORKERS
Rotella had to go through the same vetting process to qualify for the dog as everyone else, Racicot said.
“Obviously, there’s an overwhelming amount of people that wanted to adopt the puppies,” the chief said.
His assistant, Heather Silver, counted more than 60 applications.
Only three of the puppies were placed with officers in the department, he said.
Racicot and he and two other members of the Police Department who had worked on the case, reviewed each application before making a decision about where to place the puppies.
WHIMPERED IN WOODS
It all started on Saturday, Aug. 3, when City Police Detective Steven Dube began his investigation after a report from a Northern Puppies employee that the business appeared to have been burglarized.
Later that night, word reached police that two German shepherd puppies had been located on in the Strackville/Collins Road area.
The next morning, Dube took his 15-year-old daughter, Lauren, and accompanied Racicot and Rotella on a search, suspecting those might be the dogs missing from Northern Puppies.
They were combing the area on Collins Road in Schuyler Falls when they met two bikers. The police officers alerted them to the situation, and the bikers went one direction and the search party in the other.
Almost immediately, the bikers found Dallas, whimpering, about 50 feet into the forest.
As the search continued, they received word that the two shepherd puppies were, in fact, from the pet store.
Further information led them to believe that any of the missing puppies would likely have nail-polish marks in their ears. That piece of information is how police were able to identify which puppies were originally from the store, Dube said.
“We interviewed dozens and dozens of people,” Dube said, and the search went until about 6 p.m.
Soon after, Dube was notified that Mr. Staley was at the station, requesting to speak with him, the detective said.
“We learned the true story of what had happened; we went back out searching,” with Staley leading police to the areas where he allegedly said he had abandoned the puppies.
The group found more dogs on a dirt road in Macomb State Park.
“We found five little puppies all huddled together on an old sheet that just happened to be there,” Dube said. “They all came running out, and there wasn’t a dry eye.
“Seeing them, you realize how defenseless they really were.”
Meanwhile, the news of the missing pups was spreading quickly on social media, Dube said.
Dispatchers at the station began receiving calls of puppies that had been found.
Throughout the week, City Police dispatchers were even more busy than usual as public concern mounted.
“We were getting inundated with calls,” Racicot said. “Hundreds and hundreds of calls were coming in.”
PREVIOUS LEGAL TROUBLE
Mary Kleber of Plattsburgh said the uncertainty regarding conditions at Northern Puppies goes back more than a year.
Kleber, who breeds miniature schnauzers, had brought four puppies to the shop soon after it moved to Plattsburgh Plaza from its former Cogan Avenue location.
“She appeared to be a trustworthy businesswoman,” Kleber said of Mrs. Staley.
Mrs. Staley told Kleber she could not afford to buy the puppies outright, Kleber said, so she turned them over on consignment.
Soon after, she saw one of her dogs in a photo circulated on Facebook showing puppies at the shop playing in a pen covered in feces.
‘DIDN’T SHOW FOR COURT’
Kleber said she confronted Mrs. Staley in an attempt to take back the two puppies, but Mrs. Staley refused.
Kleber took her to Plattsburgh City Small Claims Court in May 2012.
Mrs. Staley failed to show up for court, and the judge ruled in Kleber’s favor, requiring Mrs. Staley to pay Kleber $250 for each of the puppies still in her care and $15 in fees.
Kleber said she never got the money.
And, she said, Mrs. Staley banned her from the store after she went to check on the pups.
“I didn’t even want the money; I wanted my puppies back.”
Kleber said she has attended every protest against Northern Puppies and intends to be present at all of Mrs. Staley’s court proceedings.
“I’ll never forgive myself for bringing those puppies up there,” Kleber said.
Sympathy for the puppies continues to spur public interest in the case.
Dozens of North Country residents searched tirelessly for the puppies when they disappeared, and local people have donated money to help cover vet costs.
Besides individual donations and the funds from Elmore SPCA, Smokey’s BBQ 911 in Bloomingdale gave $1,200 and Heath’s Auto Repair in Saranac Lake donated $200.
Racicot said everyone at City Police could not be more thankful for the public’s help in finding the lost pups.
“We did a good thing. The public did a good thing.”
— News Editor Suzanne Moore contributed to this report.