Herbert Weich left state Supreme Court in Montgomery County shaking his head Tuesday afternoon.
“My dogs are fine,” he said. “Anyone who saw them knows that.”
Weich runs Flat Creek Border Collies breeding kennel in Sprakers. Last week, state troopers came to his house following an animal abuse tip suggesting that scores of dogs were confined in small pens without adequate shelter. Troopers didn’t see any wrongdoing at the time, but their visit sparked a local outcry over Weich’s treatment of his animals that went viral online.
The controversy was at least temporarily resolved Tuesday: Weich was charged with an Agriculture and Markets Law violation and agreed in court to temporarily give up some of his dogs.
“I’m hoping to get most of them back,” he said.
The court appearance was prompted by attorneys Richard Rosenthal and Matthew Albert of the Lexus Project, a dog rights group. They traveled Monday from Queens and Buffalo respectively to file a lawsuit against the state police and Herbert Weich in an attempt to get the estimated 66 dogs removed from his property before a predicted cold snap.
Weich shelters his dogs in plastic oil drums, which Rosenthal said did not provide enough insulation.
“I don’t want to see pictures of dead dogs being loaded up into wheelbarrows … because the state police couldn’t be bothered to do their jobs,” Rosenthal said Monday.
State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Sise delayed proceedings Monday to give state Assistant Attorney General Shoshanah Bewlay time to drive out and speak for the state police Tuesday.
Before court Tuesday, Bewlay, Rosenthal and Weich worked out a compromise to get some dogs to warmth. Weich agreed to hand over his older male dogs — those that are no longer breeding — to the Montgomery County SPCA on a temporary basis. He will keep all 14 of his puppies, along with a number of adults. Should night temperatures dip below zero, he promised to bring them all into his house.
Over the next few weeks, most of the dogs he surrenders — no number was specified in court, but Weich estimated it would be two dozen — will be returned to him as he makes improvements to his operation. In the meantime, the SPCA will shoulder the cost of care. Bewlay laid out the deal to Sise, who approved it.
She also explained why Weich was charged Tuesday, rather than Friday, when troopers first came to his house. At the time, she said, troopers couldn’t see any obvious problems with Weich’s arrangement. The dogs had shelter, heated water and food.
“But conditions were borderline,” she said, and troopers brought in a local veterinarian for her professional opinion.
The veterinarian’s initial view showed a group of adequately cared for animals. Days later, she apparently changed her mind, sending the police an official report Monday night saying that Flat Creek did not provide adequate shelter for the dogs. On Tuesday, just 45 minutes before the hearing, Weich was handed a violation ticket, the first official charges he’s seen.
“She didn’t see any problems at first because there were no problems,” Weich said after leaving court. “I don’t know why she changed her mind.”
Weich said he plans to allow the SPCA to put a few of his dogs up for adoption, but to get the bulk of them returned, he’ll have to build a lot of doghouses — or rather, his neighbor, Brian Clukey, will have to build a lot of doghouses.
“It’s the neighborly thing to do,” Clukey said.
Clukey came to court with Weich on Tuesday and volunteered to build a total of 27 2-foot-high doghouses out of plywood and foam insulation. Each one will cost $170, and he doesn’t know where the money will come from.
“The breeding just makes enough for dog food and taxes,” Weich said. “It’s not a lucrative business.”
Clukey hopes to get donated materials but said the doghouses will be built regardless. He’s motivated by a combination of human kindness and exasperation. He’s lived near Weich for 10 years. During that time, he said, the dogs were all healthy. In the past week, however, he said people have been making threats.
“Someone threw nails in my driveway,” he said. “Another person shouted that I was as bad as my neighbor. I need this to stop.”
He figures a few dozen cozy-looking houses will stop the hateful stares.
Weich will appear in the Root Town Court on Jan. 13 to answer the Agriculture and Markets Law violation and again in state Supreme Court in Montgomery County on Jan. 21 to update the judge on kennel improvements.