Thursday, January 24th, 2013
Local couple may keep only 9 dogs
By Margie Wuebker
CELINA - A Fort Recovery couple, who once harbored 140 dogs at their rural home, were found guilty of cruelty to a companion animal charges Wednesday morning in Celina Municipal Court.
Robert L. Briner, 66, and Judith E. Briner, 77, both of 972 state Route 49, said little during the proceeding but nodded from time to time as they held hands.
Their no contest pleas came after months of deliberation with both sides finally agreeing on a list of sanctions. Each defendant must pay $400 fines plus court costs plus complete 20 hours of community service.
Judge James Scheer commended the Briners for reducing the number of dogs in their care to 38 since September. However, the couple must have only nine dogs in their possession at the next deadline in 120 days.
Those dogs must be vaccinated and spayed/neutered if needed. Law enforcement officials or the dog warden will conduct periodic inspections of the Briners' premises for five years.
Scheer warned any violation of the dog limits would result in confiscation as well as possible contempt of court charges.
"The goal is not to put anybody in jail," the judge said looking at the Briners seated between defense attorneys Paul Howell and Matthew Lammers. "I know you love your dogs ... people love kids but they can't provide for 300."
The first-degree misdemeanor charges, which carried up to six months in jail and $1,000 fines, involved confining a large number of dogs in a manner which caused some of them to become ill due to a lack of proper facilities or care.
Howell said cruelty was never the intent of his clients, who have a kennel license. The amount of animals on the property continued to increase because dogs were not spayed or neutered. Some people also dropped off unwanted dogs at the couple's home.
"The numbers grew too much to control," he said. "The Briners tried their best to care for the animals, but they were run into the ground physically as well as emotionally and financially."
Two men, who refused to give their names, presented a letter bearing the signatures of 57 neighbors. The letter, which asked that limits be put into place, conveyed concerns about dogs running in packs and the safety of adults and children.
"In the near future you, your kids and grandkids will be able to walk safely," Scheer told the delegation. "We are heading in the right direction."
Judith Briner later told The Daily Standard she and her husband will abide by the court-ordered sanctions.
"We love our animals (mostly Labrador Retriever mixes), and it will be difficult deciding who stays and who goes," she said. "We tried our best, but we became overwhelmed."
Some of the dogs were taken by area residents while others went to an organization known as Guardian Angel Animal Rescue. Judith Briner said they received no money for the dogs but take great satisfaction in knowing the animals will be vaccinated and spayed or neutered before going to good homes.
She also refuted statements from neighbors, pointing out that her dogs were in the house, in campers or in outbuildings equipped with pens.
"They did not run in packs," she said.
The Mercer County Sheriff's Office launched an investigation Aug. 21 after receiving a complaint from an Indiana woman who expressed concern for the dogs' welfare. The Briners reportedly had asked for her help and that of her agency in finding new homes for the animals.
Deputies searched the Briner home Sept. 12 with the assistance of Mercer County Dog Warden Tom Powell, the Randolph County chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and representatives of the Fort Recovery Veterinary Clinic.
Nineteen dogs, including seven puppies believed to be 6 weeks old and their mother, were removed for medical treatment. At least eight dogs had to be euthanized, according to sheriff's office reports.
"I can still see them carrying off the puppies and it nearly killed me," Judith Briner said. "Those poor little babies ... we were treating them but the generic medications didn't seem to be working."