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Commonwealth v. Waller

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Essex

September 20, 2016

COMMONWEALTH
v.
TASHA WALLER.

          Heard: June 15, 2016.

         Complaint received and sworn to in the Lynn Division of the District Court Department on April 16, 2013.

         The case was heard by Cathleen E. Campbell, J.

          Sarah M. Unger for the defendant.

          Philip A. Mallard, Assistant District Attorney (Katelyn M. Giliberti, Assistant District Attorney, with him) for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Green, Rubin, & Sullivan, JJ.

          RUBIN, J.

         The defendant was convicted under the animal cruelty statute for starving to death her dog, Arthur, a miniature dachshund. The finding of guilt is affirmed, as is the condition of the defendant's probation prohibiting her from owning "any pet or animal of any kind." Under settled law, however, the condition of probation requiring the defendant to submit to suspicionless inspections of her home requires modification for which that aspect of the case will be remanded.

         Facts.

         We recite the facts as they could have been found by the judge, the fact finder in this bench trial, viewing the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth.

         1. Arthur.

         On the night of January 23, 2013, the defendant brought Arthur to the Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital in Woburn. Arthur was nonresponsive and was brought immediately to the treatment area for emergency care. He was seen by Christina Valiant, an emergency care veterinarian.

         Dr. Valiant found Arthur in an extremely emaciated condition. She testified that he was "very, very, very thin"; that "his bones were all visible through his skin"; and that "he had no muscle mass." He had physical indications of prolonged malnutrition: "a lot of the fur was rubbed away from the left side of his body." Dr. Valiant also testified that Arthur "had scabs over the left side of his body where the fur had been rubbed away on the left side of his rib cage, on his elbow, on his knee, ... on [his] hip, " on the "tip of his tail, " and on the "tip[s] of his ears." Dr. Valiant testified that scabs and "pressure sores" come from "laying on one particular part of the body and not moving" because the "compression of the skin for a long enough period of time" causes the skin "to necrose or die" and "the sores result[]." The sores and scabs on Arthur indicated that he "had been laying on the left side of his body and not getting up and moving around and keeping himself off of those areas." A blood test showed that he was dehydrated.

         When Arthur arrived at the hospital he was "mostly dead" and his vital signs were bleak: he was not moving at all, "not breathing, " "unresponsive to stimuli, " "cold to the touch, " and "barely" had a heartbeat. Particularly concerning were his "fixed [and] dilated pupils" and the absence of "a palpable reflex" and a "corneal reflex, " the latter absence being a sign of brain stem damage. Arthur had no other "obvious abnormalities." An "oral exam was normal" and there were no discernible "abnormalities in his abdomen."

         As soon as Dr. Valiant saw Arthur's condition, she and the triage nurse started cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR); they tried to revive him for about twenty minutes. In Dr. Valiant's view at the time, "even if [she was] able to resuscitate him and get him breathing again, " she "didn't think that he was ever going to regain consciousness."

         After twenty minutes of CPR without response, the defendant authorized euthanasia and Arthur was euthanized.

         2. The defendant's statements at the hospital.

         When Dr. Valiant asked the defendant at the hospital what was going on with Arthur and how long he had been as he was, she claimed that he had "always been a thin dog, " and that "she had noticed for the last week or so that he had lost some more weight." The defendant also said he "had been coughing for a week before" the visit. She said that she had not "observed any vomiting, diarrhea, or loose stools." She claimed that Arthur "hadn't seemed quite right" the day before, and that he "was just sort of laying there and staring . . . off into [the] distance." She claimed that he "did eat and drink a little the day before, " but that day she "had been gone at work all day" and "when she came home she found him just lying there." She mentioned that she "had never brought [Arthur] to a veterinarian." Dr. Valiant testified that ...


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