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Former W.Va. shelter operator pleads no contest to animal cruelty

December 03, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

The former operator of a canine shelter in Berkeley County pleaded no contest Monday to a charge of animal cruelty that alleged she mistreated many, if not all, of the 149 dogs seized from the facility.

The plea signed by Mara Spade, 62, of 386 Gunpowder Lane, Inwood, W.Va., means a trial that was scheduled to begin today, almost 17 months after she was arrested July 12, 2006, on one count of animal cruelty, will not be held.

A sentencing hearing was not immediately scheduled, but is expected to be held in about 60 days, court officials said.

The Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney's office has recommended presiding Magistrate Joan V. Bragg place Spade on probation. Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Harvey confirmed Monday the office would seek restitution for the county's care of the dogs.

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"We have other interests beside (the money)," Harvey said of the $114,883 that court records show is owed to the county.

Harvey said any money recovered in the case "certainly would help out."

The $5 daily fee charged for each seized dog's care and other expenses, including veterinary services, amounted to $164,883 while they were in the custody of Berkeley County Animal Control from May 2006 to March 2007, according to court records.

Spade initially posted two $25,000 bonds to pay for the dogs' care and retained the opportunity to regain custody of the canines pending the outcome of the case after the first four or five animals were seized May 24, 2006.

Appeals to the circuit court and the state's high court continued the case into November 2006, and after a magistrate court hearing in February 2007, Spade said "the well is dry" and indicated she could not post a $139,883 bond that projected the cost of the dogs' care through the end of March.

By that time, Spade had "relinquished" the opportunity to regain custody of 50 of the canines, and five others died, officials had said.

The animal cruelty charge filed against Spade stemmed from a June 29, 2006, visit by a veterinarian to the Second Chance Rescue shelter off Harlan Springs Road. The animal doctor reported that many of the dogs appeared lame. Others had poor skin and haircoats and open wounds, and were in pens that had inadequate ventilation, sanitation, water and food.

After Spade was arrested July 12, 2006, Bragg found probable cause that the dogs seized were not receiving proper care and ordered Spade to post a $25,000 bond to cover the cost of caring for the animals over a 30-day period.

Appeals of the magistrate's ruling were made to circuit court and then to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, which in November 2006 refused to prevent the enforcement of the lower court orders.

Last month, Bragg revoked and forfeited Spade's $2,000 personal recognizance bond after Harvey presented the magistrate with evidence that alleged Spade violated her bail agreement because she had possession of more dogs.

Bragg later reinstated Spade's bond but ordered Spade to not have any domesticated animals ? dogs and cats ? in her possession and not have any contact by feeding, watering or mending fences, according to the magistrate's order.

Spade's attorney, Paul G. Taylor, could not be immediately reached for comment.

A conviction for animal cruelty carries a sentence of up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine, according to state law.

Per state law, Spade must undergo a psychological evaluation at her own expense before the hearing before any probation can be ordered, Harvey confirmed.

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