News

Collie abusers plead, get tough sentences

Penalty worse than proposed by prosecution

By P. CHRISTINE SMITH

Staff reporter

A Camano Island couple found with 79 collie dogs living in deplorable conditions at their home last month pleaded guilty to second-degree animal cruelty by way of an Alford’s plea in Island County District Court Tuesday and were sentenced to jail or electronic home detention, fines and penalties, and loss of ownership of most of the dogs.

Paul and Karen Chestney, looking subdued and exhibiting no emotion, listened while Judge Thomas Coughlin handed down a stiffer sentence than the one recommended by the prosecution.

Coughlin ordered identical sentences for the Chestneys, who were charged separately. Each was sentenced to 30 days in jail or 60 days in electronic home detention, $2,000 in fines and penalties and 24 months probation. The couple will be allowed to keep no more than 10 animals on their property and in their possession for the duration of the probation, and all of the animals must be spayed or neutered. Additionally, Animal Control officers and probation officers may enter the Chestneys’ property at any time to check on the living conditions and the health of the animals.

Judge Coughlin, in his pre-sentencing statement, said that he was not prepared to hand down the sentence on Tuesday, but was apparently convinced to do so by both Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Douglas Losak and Monte Wolff, defense attorney, both of whom asked for immediate sentencing.

Coughlin reviewed the police reports of the Island County Sheriff’s deputy who responded to the Chestneys’ home on May 5, following a 911 call placed by Karen Chestney, saying that her neighbor had fired gunshots. Clearly, the judge said after silently reading the report, these animals were neglected.

The dogs ranged in age from newborn puppies to 14 years old, and were found in cages and a basement littered with their own waste. Additionally the dogs were underweight and some had medical problems.

Coughlin also told the Chestneys that he wouldn’t try to speculate “why in heaven’s name you’d keep that many animals.”

Coughlin also discounted Wolff’s statements that the filthy conditions in which the dogs were found were the result of health problems and economical stress the Chestneys claim to have been experiencing at the time the deputy found the dogs.

Coughlin said that such difficulties were “not an excuse” and that the Chestneys had “invited disaster” upon themselves by keeping so many dogs.

Referring to a court case several years ago in Snohomish County in which the Chestneys were found guilty of operating a kennel without a license and zoning violations, Coughlin said, “This is the second time you’ve been before a court” for animal-related violations. He advised the defendants that there should not be a third time, and if there is, the matter “had better not come before” him.

Meanwhile animal-protection advocates are celebrating the decision.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Shari Bibich, the shelter manager for Whidbey Animal Improvement Foundation, which is one of the organizations that has been helping Island County Animal Control provide care for the collies.

“It’s closure for the animals,” Bibich said.

While she is not yet sure what procedure will be followed to find permanent homes for the dogs that have been taken away from the Chestneys, Bibich said she is looking forward to placing them with appropriate new owners.

“We’ll show them what life is like outside of a box,” Bibich said.

Island County Animal Control Officer Carol Barnes applauded the judge’s decision and the work that Losak and Island County Prosecuting Attorney Greg Banks put into the case.

“They did a great job representing the collies and their best interests,” Barnes said of the prosecutors.

“And the judge was able to see clearly and be able to think also what’s in the best interest of these dogs,” Barnes added.

The dogs have been cared for in shelters, private kennels and in individual fosters homes for the past six weeks. Due to the judge’s decision, nine may be returned to the Chestneys, who already have one other dog in their possession.

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