Two animal rights lawyers from opposite corners of the state drove to state Supreme Court in Montgomery County on Monday in an end-run effort to get 66 border collies indoors before the predicted return of subzero temperatures.
Richard Rosenthal of Queens and Matthew Albert of Buffalo both work with the Lexus Project, a dog rights group. They came to Montgomery County following a social media outcry over living conditions at the Flat Creek Border Collies breeding kennel in Sprakers.
On New Year’s Eve, state police received an animal abuse tip claiming scores of dogs were living in snow-covered communal pens at 569 Rappa Road, where Kathy Weich and her brother Herbert Weich run a border collie breeding business. Over the next few days, troopers worked with a local veterinarian checking out the area.
In a news release, state police spokesman Mark Cepiel said several visits to the kennel did not reveal any violations of state or local laws.
“The owner of the kennel has provided shelter, food and heated water as required,” the release said.
That didn’t stop Rosenthal and Albert from drafting an inch-thick lawsuit late into Saturday night, then hopping in their respective cars and driving to Montgomery County.
At 2:30 p.m., they stood in suits in the clerk’s office filing an Article 78 proceeding against the state police.
“I didn’t pack any clothes,” Albert said, lifting a briefcase of papers. “This is all I brought, which could be a problem if this doesn’t get resolved today.”
They were in such a rush to get to court, neither one stopped by Rappa Road to see if collies were actually being mistreated.
“We’ve seen pictures,” Albert said.
In layman’s terms he described the proceeding as a lawsuit aimed at forcing state police into taking action, though he said Herbert Weich is also named in further legal action.
While the police said the Weichs were in compliance with the law, Rosenthal argued shelter for the animals, while available, was not adequate.
“We’re talking about border collies, not huskies,” he said, “They weren’t bred for below-zero temperatures.”
Currently, he said 66 dogs are living in pens with a series of overturned plastic barrels for shelter. Based upon forecasted cold temperatures and potentially dangerous wind chills, the lawyers hoped for a decision mandating the immediate removal of the dogs before the overnight hours.
“I don’t want to see pictures of dead dogs being loaded up into wheelbarrows Monday morning because the state police couldn’t be bothered to do their jobs,” he said.
A half hour later the lawyers appeared before state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Sise. They hoped he would hand down an order to get the dogs to warmth, but he did not.
“We are aware that a polar vortex is coming,” he said, but then delayed the proceedings.
Since Rosenthal and Albert implicate the state police in their lawsuit, Sise said the state police should be allowed to represent themselves. Assistant Attorney General Shoshanah Bewlay will appear on behalf of the state police at 1 p.m. today, at which point the issue will be brought back to the court. In the meantime, the dogs will be left in their pens.
Eric Bellows was one of a handful of concerned local residents watching the proceedings. He ran his hands through his red beard and said “I’m worried about the dogs tonight.”
It was Bellows’ call that brought law enforcement to the Weichs in the first place. He heard barking New Years’s Eve at his home, 10 miles form the pens.
“I went over to see if everything was okay,” he said. “That was back when they allowed me on their land.”
He brought over hay bales for insulation, but when he suggested finding new homes for some of the dogs, he said the Weichs didn’t want to hear it. In the end, he called in an animal abuse tip to law enforcement.
Since the state police investigated his tip and did not file charges, Bellows said people became enraged on social media. On dedicated Facebook pages, updates on the story are accompanied by scores of vitriolic comments. It was that outcry that brought in lawyers from the Lexus Project, but Bellows said it’s gone too far.
“No one deserves to get harassed,” Bellows said. “No one deserves to get death threats like the Weichs have been getting. I think a lot of people made this about people, rather than the dogs.”
He runs Pack Ethic, a network of roughly 40 area animal lovers. Had Sise ordered seizure of the dogs he said the network would have taken them in, without judging the Weichs for leaving them out.
He said his network will still be ready to help, should such a decision be made in further proceedings.
In the meantime, he’s hoping the dogs will last the night.
Kathy and Herbert Weich could not be reached for comment Monday.