John Riggieri

Michael Moore / Sentinel Staff

John Riggieri, left, and his attorney, Keith Mathews, at a hearing in April.

The trial of a Marlborough man charged with animal cruelty for the way he allegedly housed his 52 Labrador retrievers has been canceled, due to a last-minute agreement with the prosecutor’s office.

Under the agreement, dated Friday and filed in Cheshire County Superior Court, prosecutors dropped the two misdemeanor charges facing John Riggieri. In exchange, Riggieri, 59, must relinquish his ownership of the animals — which were seized from his Marlborough home in July 2018 — to the Monadnock Humane Society.

Prosecutors also have the option of refiling the charges if Riggieri commits any new crimes in the next two years. The agreement lists no other conditions.

Sheriff’s deputies and Monadnock Humane Society staff have testified that they found Riggieri’s 52 dogs living in a house covered in excrement and other filth. A litter of puppies was found in a bathtub, in a room reeking of ammonia, according to the testimony.

A judge in Keene’s 8th Circuit Court District Division found Riggieri guilty in February of two misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty related to the unsanitary conditions. He was later sentenced to probation, along with restrictions on his future dog ownership.

But that sentence was vacated when Riggieri appealed his conviction, entitling him to a new trial before a jury in Cheshire County Superior Court. The trial was scheduled to begin Wednesday following jury selection today.

Deputy County Attorney Kathleen O’Reilly, who prosecuted the case, and County Attorney D. Chris McLaughlin were not immediately reachable for comment this morning.

“We are enthusiastic about the result,” Keith Mathews, Riggieri’s attorney, said in an email this morning. “John Riggieri always wanted to do right by his animals and in the end that was all that mattered to him. The Labradors have found caring families who adore them and John Riggieri happily moves forward an innocent man.”

Riggieri’s dogs — now numbering 50, after two puppies were euthanized for medical reasons — along with a cat have spent the past 15 months under the care of the Monadnock Humane Society. The dogs were first housed at the organization’s Swanzey facility before being placed in temporary foster homes. The organization estimates it has incurred $400,000 in costs caring for the dogs both at the shelter and in foster care, including overhead, administrative work, routine veterinary care and visits to outside veterinarians for more specialized medical needs. It has made up about $150,000 of that through donations, Kathy Collinsworth, the organization's executive director, said.

Even after the dogs were fostered, they would return frequently to the humane society for routine veterinary care or temporary stays while the foster families traveled. The dogs could not be taken out of state as long as the case was pending, Collinsworth said. “Any time you turned the corner there was a Lab in house."

The case also burdened the organization's administrative staff.  “I cannot explain to you the endless amount of hours my shelter manager has put into managing 45 different relationships with foster families,” Collinsworth said.

Between the workload and the constant rotation of visiting Labs, the Monadnock Humane Society has been unable to accept transports of dogs from elsewhere in the country and adopt them out locally, she added.

The organization expects to bring the 50 Labrador retrievers back in for spaying or neutering, then adopt them out. Collinsworth said she believes all of the foster families plan to hold on to their dogs permanently, an option they have under the foster agreements.

Collinsworth said she had expected the case to drag on for perhaps another year and reach the N.H. Supreme Court. This resolution prevents that, giving the dogs and their new families certainty, she said. 

“People have sort of had a hard time processing the reality that he won't be facing any charges,” Collinsworth said. But she said she's satisfied with the outcome. “Our bottom line is always about the welfare of the animals.”

This story has been updated to include comments from Kathy Collinsworth of the Monadnock Humane Society.

Paul Cuno-Booth can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or Follow him on Twitter @PCunoBoothKS