There’s a security camera installed on the side of Bill Jack’s house. It pans across his driveway and captures the comings and goings on his dirt road near the Marlborough-Jaffrey border.
“I think this is the one,” says Jack, a retired Franklin Pierce University professor, as he scrolls through his computer.
(Editor's note: we highly recommend listening to this story.)
He launches a video, one of hundreds he has showing dogs entering his property.
“Here comes the dogs. Here’s one dog...two.”
A pack of yellow Labrador retrievers amble on to the screen. One stops, lifts his leg and marks the Jack’s mailbox.
Watch: Security camera captures video of dogs taken by a neighbor
“They kind of move in a pack and come on in.”
These free-range dogs belong to Bill Jack’s neighbor, a breeder named John Riggieri, who for the past 14 years has lived up the road.
“Everything was quiet for a little while, for a few years. Then he got a couple of dogs,” says Jack. “And then he got more dogs, and more dogs, and more dogs.”
Jack and other neighbors have complained about the nuisance created by the loose, barking dogs.
But this summer, while attempting to serve an eviction on Riggieri, law enforcement entered his house and found what they allege is a puppy mill. They describe waste and urine coating the floors, as well as animals with untreated injuries.
Police seized 52 dogs and one cat, named Smittens.
They charged Riggieri with ten counts of animal cruelty. The dogs - and Smittens the cat - were placed with the Monadnock Humane Society.
“This we believe is the largest case in our history, and we were founded in 1875, so it’s pretty intense,” says Kathy Collinsworth, executive director of the Monadnock Humane Society.
She says that when adding up the cost of food, medical expenses, staffing and overhead, the price tag for caring for the labs is approaching $50,000.
Under current state law, the cost of caring for seized animals, which are considered evidence as abuse cases move through the criminal courts, generally falls on the municipality or the non-profit animal shelter that takes them in.
If the accused pet owners are found guilty, prosecutors can seek restitution for the expenses of caring for the seized pets. But Collinsworth says the owners often can’t pay, and the bill ultimately lands on local taxpayers.
“If we had stricter regulations around things like this, we wouldn’t be faced with these realities, and these expenses,” she says.
Every year in New Hampshire, a few of these large-scale animal abuse cases seem to crop up. Pick your breed: there were Great Danes in Wolfeboro, Chihuahuas in Croydon, German Shepherds in Alexandria.
State Representative Peter Bixby, a Democrat from Dover, would like to protect towns from the costs associated with these cases.
“It makes more sense to spread that risk over the entire state rather than saying, 'Well, your town got screwed this year,'” he says.
Bixby was one of the state lawmakers who worked on a failed piece of legislation last session, Senate Bill 569. The bill sought to overhaul how New Hampshire defines and regulates commercial dog breeders and deals with related expenses.
The bill died not because of a partisan dispute, but a different kind of divide.
On one side were legitimate, responsible breeders. They feared the bill’s new regulations would create unfair burdens on them and could violate due process protections. On the other side were groups like the Humane Society of the United States. They argue the state’s laws are too lax, putting animals and taxpayers at risk.
Bixby says there is an appetite in Concord to try again next year to find the right balance.
“The term tougher is not useful in this situation,” he says. “I think the state needs to get more effective.”
Last month, a Keene judge ruled the Labs currently held by the Monadnock Humane Society in the Marlborough case could be transferred to temporary foster homes. The shelter says fostering lowers the overall expense and is better for the animals. Smittens, meanwhile, is still hanging out at the shelter.
John Riggieri, the accused dog breeder, maintains his innocence and told NHPR the dogs were living happily at his home in Marlborough.
His trial begins Friday, and it will be up to the judge to decide who ultimately gets the animals, and the bills for their care.