CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Defense attorneys for two of the three people charged in a Middle Township animal cruelty case said Tuesday that they will know Wednesday if their clients will testify in their own defense.
Dawn Scheld and Leroy Thomas Jr., along with the couple’s 20-year-old daughter Leann Thomas, are each charged with various counts of animal cruelty or conspiracy in the case, which involved the seizure of 61 dogs, many in poor health, in December 2010.
Leann Thomas testified Monday that she and her parents were attempting to rescue the dogs, not harm them, but a NJ SPCA investigator and a veterinarian have testified that many of the dogs suffered from a range of illnesses and were living in deplorable conditions inside and outside the family’s home in Cape May Court House.
Scheld and Leroy Thomas Jr. may testify Wednesday and then closing arguments are expected to be heard by Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten. Batten will then make a determination on each of the criminal charges because the defendants requested a bench trial, meaning no jury is present.
The state rested its case Tuesday.
Assistant Prosecutor Christie Smith presented several witnesses during the course of the trial including SPCA investigator Theresa Cooper who was on the family’s property the day a search warrant was executed along with Christine Guzman, an Egg Harbor Township woman who said she purchased a puppy from the family and later found the puppy had a serious and contagious skin condition.
Veterinarian Heather Lingley also testified about the medical condition of many of the dogs she treated and the state they were in when she first saw on Dec. 18, 2010. Those conditions ranged from cases of mange and a rectal prolapse to heartworm disease and parvovirus among others.
On Tuesday, Batten dismissed one count of the indictment regarding the death of a dog known as Mason. That dog had to be euthanized because it had contracted parvovirus and was extremely ill. Canine parvovirus can cause lethargy, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, dehydration, shock and death.
Two other criminal counts related to two other dogs, Bubbles and Nash, that also died remain.
In addition, Scheld is charged with hindering her apprehension by placing several puppies in a family member’s care the day the search warrant was being executed at her property.
Other charges include selling a diseased or contagious animal and conspiracy on the part of the family to commit animal cruelty.
Smith said that while no written agreement to commit animal cruelty existed, the three defendants did just that.
“An agreement should be inferred from the behavior the three of them engaged in,” Smith told the judge.
However, attorney Robert Pinizotto, representing Leroy Thomas Jr., told the judge that no law exists that could force the family to take their animals to a veterinarian.
“Until the law is adopted that requires pets to receive medical care, an individual is permitted to do what they want for their property,” Pinizotto said. “It might be repulsive. It might be offensive, but that’s the law.”
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