Renee Ordway

A plea bargain no animal lover can support

Posted March 25, 2011, at 7:33 p.m.
Last modified March 26, 2011, at 7 a.m.

 

When animal welfare investigators searched the property of John and Heidi Frasca in Buxton in 2007 they found 250 dogs in various stages of ill health.

Some of the dogs had jaw bones that were eroding because of the filth and infection in their mouths. Some had broken legs that were never treated. Many had intestinal parasites resulting in nearly continuous diarrhea, and dozens upon dozens had various forms of mange.

One dog was so badly damaged that rescuers were sure she was deaf.

Instead they found she was shell-shocked — paralyzed with fear.

When the case was publicized, volunteers swarmed to help the diseased and psychologically scarred animals.

It would become the biggest case of animal cruelty the state had ever investigated.

It was a disaster, according to the state’s head veterinarian Christine Fraser, who was involved from the beginning.

“I mean that literally. It was a true disaster — a man-made one — but a disaster just the same, and organizations around the country sent in disaster relief teams just as they would in any type of other disaster. We were overwhelmed. We needed help and the national organizations stepped up,” she said.

It was unprecedented and in the end cost the state of Maine about $450,000 for care of the animals and the 100 or so puppies that were born from the pregnant moms rescued that August day.

In the weeks after the raid at least one litter of puppies was born every day.

The final head count of dogs involved was 368, and because of countless hours of work by volunteers and animal welfare workers all the dogs were adopted.

The abuse case, its subsequent response and investigation serve as a role model for animal welfare organizations faced with such massive abuse and neglect.

The Animal Welfare Society stepped forward, and the Animal Rescue League, the Human Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals all sent help.

It consumed Dr. Fraser’s life for months.

Dr. Melinda Merk, a senior director of veterinary forensics for ASPCA, worked with Fraser and others in Maine to ensure the proper collection of evidence in order to aid the prosecutors in their case against the Frascas.

Dr. Fraser made an evidence book.

Clear and precise.

“I spent a month just preparing this book of evidence for the district attorney’s office,” she said Friday. “Before and after pictures of the dogs and medical records — we carefully documented every detail.”

Meanwhile Heidi and John Frasca fled. Their property was abandoned and seized by the bank and auctioned off. In 2009 the couple were arrested in Massachusetts and extradited back to Maine.

They were charged with 25 counts of animal cruelty each and released on bail.

The case then faced a series of court continuances and in November a new district attorney was elected in York County.

That would be Kathryn Slattery and she appointed her assistant district attorney, John Connelly, to deal with the case.

In February, Dr. Fraser tried to contact John Connelly to discuss the case and get an update on its progress.

“First off, it took me a long time to even get a clear answer as to who had been assigned the case,” she said. “Then when I finally found out I called him and left a message and I emailed him. I never received any response.”

See, John Connelly might have been new to the case, but Dr. Fraser was there in Buxton. She had seen those animals. She had witnessed their scars and she had seen the hundreds of volunteers who scraped dog feces from walls and floors and gently washed damaged dogs.

She had meticulously helped put the case together.

Even though the case had been pending for four years, Dr. Fraser had not forgotten about it. It was not on her back burner.

And then this week she learned that the Frascas had slipped back into the state and pleaded to five of the 25 counts of animal cruelty.

In exchange they would complete 30 hours of community service each, and if they can go 17 months without getting caught for breaking the law, all the charges, even the five they pleaded to, will be dropped.

Their record will be clean and there will be nothing to prevent them from opening another “breeding facility.”

Neither Slattery nor Connelly had the courtesy to even contact the Buxton police chief who helped oversee the investigation or Dr. Fraser about the impending plea deal.

They learned of it from someone who happened to be in the courtroom that day.

Slattery is on vacation and Connelly is out of the office because of an injury, according to a receptionist at the York County District Attorney’s Office.

On Thursday, Slattery issued a written press release in which she stated that she felt the penalties against Heidi and John Fracas were substantial.

Clearly, neither Slattery nor Connelly felt it necessary to let Dr. Fraser or the Buxton Police Department know about the pending plea bargain.

They certainly didn’t have to. They are not required to.

District Attorney Slattery owes nothing to the hundreds of volunteers who scraped up that feces and cared for those damaged dogs. No explanation needed — according to the law.

I’m thinking it just might work for her. She might be ripe for political greatness. Perhaps after her stint as York County district attorney she could run for governor.

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