WORCESTER – Sean P. Stanton of Milford, one of the former owners of a dog-training facility on Cambridge Street, was found not guilty of an animal cruelty charge after a jury-waived trial Friday in Central District Court.
An identical charge against a co-defendant, Amy J. Egeland, was continued without a finding after Ms. Egeland admitted to sufficient facts for a guilty finding.
The animal cruelty charges against the two stemmed from what prosecutors alleged was the mistreatment of a dog left in their care in February 2016, when Mr. Stanton and Ms. Egeland ran Balance Your Bully K9 training at 13 Cambridge St.
Prior to the start of Mr. Stanton’s bench trial, Ms. Egeland, 52, now living in Arkansas, admitted to sufficient facts for a guilty finding before Judge Michael G. Allard-Madaus.
Judge Allard-Madaus continued the charge without a finding for two years, during which time Ms. Egeland will remain on administrative probation. She was assessed $500 in court costs and was ordered as a condition of probation to refrain from any manner of animal cruelty. The charge will be dismissed after two years if Ms. Egeland has no further difficulties with the law.
Ms. Egeland, the former manager of the Fitchburg Animal Shelter,Â currently works with dogs as owner of Come Stay and Play in Ward, Ark., according to her lawyer, Darren T. Griffis.
Assistant District Attorney Kristin F. Scott had asked that Ms. Egeland be placed on probation with a guilty finding, which would have legally prohibited her from working with animals.
The charges against her and the 53-year-old Mr. Stanton were lodged after Marcus Lussier-Keilch of Middletown, Conn., the owner of a three-legged Rottweiler named Debo that prosecutors alleged was abused, filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
According to a statement ofÂ facts filed in court by MSPCA Officer Christine Allenberg, Mr. Lussier-Keilch brought Debo to Balance Your Bully on Feb. 10, 2016, prior to his departure on a familyÂ vacation to the Bahamas.
Mr.Â Lussier-Keilch testified during Mr. Stanton’s bench trial that the adopted dog was exhibiting “dominant” behavior and he hoped to have it trained by Mr. Stanton and Ms. Egeland, who specialized in dealing with difficult dogs.
At the insistence ofÂ Mr. Stanton and Ms. Egeland, Debo arrived at Balance Your Bully wearing a muzzle, according to Mr. Lussier-Keilch.
While he was away, he said, he received a Facebook message from Ms. Egeland advising him that Debo had developed an infection under the muzzle and had been treatedÂ by a veterinarian with pain medication and antibiotics.
When he returned from the Bahamas on Feb. 17, 2016, he was asked to come pick up his dog, according to Mr. Lussier-Keilch.
He said he found that Debo was still wearing the muzzle, that his face was swollen and smelled bad and that he had lost weight.
Mr. Lussier-Keilch testified that he took Debo to the Pieper Memorial Veterinary Clinic in Connecticut, where he was sedated and the tight-fitting muzzle was removed. Veterinarian Dr. Kristen Fratamico testified that she prescribed antibiotics and pain medication for the dog, which had lesions on his face where the muzzle had been.
According to Ms. Allenberg’s statement, Mr. Stanton and Ms. Egeland later said they had taken Debo to a veterinary hospital, but that he had been refused treatment because he was so aggressive. They also admitted that they had given Debo antibiotics that had been prescribed in the past for Ms. Egeland, according to the statement.
Dr. Ponciano Salazar of the WebsterÂ Square Animal Clinic testified that Mr. Stanton visited him on Feb. 15, 2016, and asked if he could see an “aggressive” dog with an infection in the area of its mouth.
Dr. Salazar said he did not want to see the dog that day because he was “booked up” and had safety concerns. He said he did, however, write a prescription for antibiotics for the dog and recommended that Mr. Stanton make an appointment to bring the dog in as soon as possible.
The only witness called to the stand by Mr. Stanton’s lawyer, Leonardo A. Angiulo, was Barbara Lussier, Mr. Lussier-Keilch’s mother.
She described Debo as a “very aggressive” and “dangerous” dog and spoke highly of Mr. Stanton, who, she said, had trained a dog belonging to her in 2016.
SheÂ said she advised Mr. Stanton after she learned that Debo was at his facility not to remove the muzzle he was wearing because he had bitten two people in the past.
She also testified that her son told her sometime after Debo left Balance Your Buddy that Mr. Stanton owed him money and thatÂ he planned to “destroy” him.
In his closing argument in the case, Mr. Angiulo said veterinary records introduced into evidence showed that Debo was an aggressive animal that “could not be handled unless sedated.” He suggested his client did everything he could to try toÂ properly care for the dog and that he did not violate the law.
Assistant District Attorney Scott argued that Debo was subjected to “unnecessary pain and suffering” as a result of the muzzle being left on him for seven days. She said the failure to remove the muzzle deprived Debo of adequate food and water and that Mr. Stanton should have sought out proper veterinary care toÂ have it taken off, as Mr. Lussier-Keilch did. She asked the judge to find Mr. Stanton guilty.
In finding Mr. Stanton not guilty, Judge Allard-Madaus said the prosecution had not met its burden of proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Justice prevailed,” Mr. Stanton said after the verdict.
Mr. Lussier-Keilch said he was not unhappy with the verdict because he believed Ms. Egeland was more culpable than Mr. Stanton.