SWANZEY — Tails wagged at high speed Sunday while foster families officially adopted many of the Labs seized in a high-profile animal cruelty case last year.
Monadnock Humane Society staff offered refreshments, took family photos with everyone’s pet and wrapped up any outstanding tasks, such as transferring the dogs’ microchips to their new owners.
Emily Kerylow, the humane society’s director of shelter operations, explained that the organization was able to finish the adoption process because the pets have all been spayed and neutered as of Thursday.
Making the adoption event into a fun shindig was intended to punctuate the past 16 months, she added.
“I think this was just such a long process and it was such an emotional roller coaster,” she said.
After so much turmoil and uncertainty for the foster families, Kerylow said it was time to celebrate a positive resolution.
In July 2018, 52 dogs and a cat were seized from the Marlborough home of John Riggieri, who was subsequently charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty. Sheriff’s deputies and humane society staff have testified that they found the 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 found Riggieri, 59, guilty in February of two counts of animal cruelty, but he appealed and was headed for a jury trial in Cheshire County Superior Court. Last month, just a few days before the trial was slated to start, Riggieri struck a deal with the prosecutor’s office: The charges were dropped, and he relinquished ownership of the animals to the humane society.
Riggieri’s cat and 50 dogs — two puppies were euthanized for medical reasons — spent the past 16 months under the humane society’s care. The dogs were first housed at the organization’s Swanzey facility before being placed in temporary foster homes.
Sunday’s event marked the end of a legal process that lasted for more than a year and involved dozens of people, Kerylow said.
Roxanne Karter brought Bruin to the party, who’s being adopted by her son and daughter-in-law. Karter said she’s spent a lot of time with the Lab because they all lived together for six months.
Bruin was one of the last dogs to get a foster home because he was so shy and skittish around people, but he’s come a long way since then. He eagerly looked to everyone for pats Sunday, and when someone offered a treat, he politely sat and lifted both paws in the air.
Volunteers at the humane society have told Karter that “even when he was fearful, he had this positive energy,” she said.
Karter said he’s smart and has learned to trust people. He prefers sleeping on a blanket rather than the bare floor, she added, and if there’s a pillow he’s the happiest pup in the world.
In the lobby, Bodie wiggled excitedly at the sight of other Labs, tongue hanging from his mouth. His owner, Kim Fisher, explained that he was one of the dogs found in the bathtub, and Bodie reunited with one of his litter mates Sunday afternoon.
When she and her husband Craig took him into their Surry home, Bodie was only a few months old. A photo on Fisher’s phone shows a young and lanky Bodie seated underneath the Fishers’ older Lab.
“He has to be near another living thing at all times,” she said, attributing Bodie’s anxiety to what she’s heard about his prior situation.
They read about the cruelty case in the newspaper, Fisher said, and thought they could help by fostering one of the dogs, which they presumed wouldn’t last more than a few months. After raising Bodie for so long, though, she said they dreaded the idea of losing him.
Kerylow said that concern was prevalent among foster families, many of whom watched a puppy grow up in their home. Although the humane society’s staff explained there was no way to know how long the foster situation might last or what the case’s outcome would be, Kerylow said, people still became attached, which she said is understandable.
“Not only did I not want the dogs to go back to a bad situation, but I didn’t wanna see the fosters heartbroken, either,” she said. “So it was like double stress.”
On Sunday, everyone could breathe a collective sigh of relief and finally enjoy their permanent pets. All of the dogs and Smitten the cat are being adopted by their foster families, according to Monadnock Humane Society Executive Director Kathy Collinsworth.
The day also served as the first meetup for the foster families, Kerylow said. Because of the sensitivity of the case, they didn’t have any contact with each other, so it was an opportunity to share their experiences. A few people found that their Labs expressed some of the same traits, for instance, like sticking very close to their owners.
During the adoption party, the shelter was still open for business, with people peeking at cats, and a beagle on a leash looking bewildered among all the Labs.
Kerylow said the only feasible way to host the event was during regular hours, and it didn’t make sense to close. Besides, she added, the afternoon was emblematic of the past 16 months.
“That was the thing: It’s not like our lives stopped when we took this on,” she said.
The humane society took in more than 50 animals on top of everything else in what Kerylow called a “logistics Tetris puzzle.”
Collinsworth has said the humane society incurred about $400,000 in costs caring for the dogs both at the shelter and in their foster homes, including overhead, administrative work and veterinary care. The organization has made up about $150,000 of that through donations, she has said.
Kerylow credited the donors, volunteers, staff and fosters, without whom, she said, she’s not sure it would’ve worked out.
“It takes a village, and luckily we have a community that pitches in.”