The animal shelter where 12 French Mastiffs have taken refuge after being found abandoned in Stratford has seen an influx of donations from around the world since news of the dogs’ plight broke.
But an official at the shelter is bracing for a legal battle over their fate and said the shelter has received threatening phone calls from breeders seeking to recover the animals.
According to several breeding websites, French Mastiffs fetch an average price of $1,000 but can be sold for as high as $5,000.
On April 6, state police arrested Bentley Valdez, 55, on 22 misdemeanor counts of failure to provide sustenance in connection with the case. The previous day, police found 22 mastiffs at a farm belonging to Valdez in the Fulton County Town of Stratford. Nine of the animals had died, and 13 emaciated dogs were turned over to the Brennan Humane Society, where one passed away the next day.
Valdez could not be reached for comment.
Brennan Humane Society President Christie Rust said the shelter has received threatening phone calls from breeders who claim to have sold the dogs to Valdez and are looking to take ownership of them. She said the shelter has retained a lawyer to represent them in an anticipated custody battle over the animals, but she would not comment further.
Clifton Park-based attorney John Schopf, who bills himself as “the animal attorney,” said he’s been brought on to represent the shelter. He said the shelter wants to keep the mastiffs for rehabilitation and eventual adoption.
“There’s a process to go through that would insure the dogs come over for adoption; I’ve been hired to do that,” said Schopf.
He didn't know, as of Friday, how many breeders were seeking the dogs, but he said claims of ownership are common in such cases.
“I have done several of these high-profile seizure cases, and you get people from all aspects of the animal community coming out and seeking control ... It’s kind of a crazy world,” he said.
Schopf was hired after a fundraiser organized by the shelter but said he takes such cases at a discount. He added that, since taking the dogs in, the shelter has installed security cameras at their Gloversville facility.
Schopf said he doesn’t know if Valdez has retained an attorney or if he will seek custody of the animals.
“It’s really in a holding pattern. A lot will depend on the action Valdez will take when he hires a lawyer,” Schopf said. “He may just decide to forfeit ownership, which I think will be best for everyone involved.”
State Police Capt. Michael Tietz told The Daily Gazette last week that conditions on the farm where the mastiffs were found were deplorable. It appeared as if some of the dogs were living inside a house on the 147-acre farm, located at 404 County Route 104.
The residence was contaminated with feces, said Tietz, making the home uninhabitable for humans. Deceased dogs were found in garbage bags and crates at the property, and it appeared as if some were feeding on one of the dead dogs. Tietz said it was unknown for how long the dogs were abandoned.
Their plight garnered attention and donations from around the world, according to employees of the Brennan Humane Society. The shelter is still soliciting donations to help with the canine's care and recently sold out of T-shirts printed with “The Stratford 22,” accompanied by a line drawing of a French Mastiff. The shirt is also printed with “April 5, 2017,” and, “Never Forget.”
Local establishments also pitched in, with dog food donations coming in from Capital District-based Healthy Pet Center and Harvey's Home Garden and Pet Center in Johnstown, according to the shelter’s website.
The shelter in need of bleach, laundry soap, paper towels, blankets, towels and canned food to care for the mastiffs. The shelter can be reached at 518-725-0115.