In a 31-page decision that reviewed many of the details that led to the Nov. 29 arrest of Catherine Palmer on multiple counts of animal cruelty, Judge Kenneth B. Povodator said the conditions in which the dogs lived—“with feces and urine on the walls and floor”—and circumstances of the deaths at the residence of three puppies amounts to animal cruelty under state law.
“There were too many dogs—especially given that many were transient in nature—and far too little structured care and supervision (including inadequate instructions as to what to do in the event of foreseeable problems); unsanitary conditions for tenants and dogs; inadequate attention to the grooming and medical needs of the animals as evidenced by a number of (if not especially dangerous) conditions discovered during the post-seizure exams; a somewhat cavalier attitude about the first dog to die in September (no apparent concern as to why, or whether that cause might pose a threat to other dogs),” Povodator wrote in the decision.
“The second dog to die may have been (plausibly) described as handled acceptably, but there was no attempt even to verify that the third dog also had Parvo or its prognosis, instead simply directing that the third dog be given the medicine that had been prescribed for the second dog’s diagnosed condition (Parvo)—and implicitly, see what happens.”
He added, “The pattern cannot be ignored; a persistent lack of any program or system to ensure proper care of a somewhat rotating inventory of puppies (plus 2 more permanent pet-residents), instead relying on informal arrangements with tenants; rare presence on the premises both for actual care and monitoring of care being provided by others; and a woefully inadequate response to the events in September. There was a brief effort to supplement cleaning—but when [a cleaner] quit as a result of the September dog deaths and prevailing conditions, no one appears to have been hired to replace her. There have been consistent reports of unsanitary conditions, not only from [a tenant] but also the animal control officer on those occasions she was on the premises, and reports from at least one other tenant—inferentially perceived by the defendant to be sufficiently valid to have resulted in part in the short-term cleaning services from [the cleaner]. The plaintiff has sustained its statutory burden of proof.”
Officer Allyson Halm of the New Canaan Police Department’s Animal Control section will take full custody of the dogs following a 20-day period for appeal, officials say. Police have said they will notify the community regarding the dogs’ adoptability once that is a certain possibility.
Issued following multiple hearings during which Palmer herself testified along with Halm and others, the judge’s decision bookends one aspect of a case that has garnered wide attention and re-fired a conversation in town regarding the condition of New Canaan’s animal shelter (more below).
Palmer still faces three counts of cruelty to animals, a felony offense.
Her arrest followed a months-long investigation by New Canaan Police. According to Halm’s arrest warrant application, Palmer operated an illegal pet store while keeping puppies and dogs in an unsanitary environment, lying to veterinarians about their health and denying the animals access to medical care. Authorities seized 10 puppies and two adult dogs from the Butler Lane home that Palmer had been letting to tenants.
“The tenants, individually and collectively, were on the premises regularly if not nearly continuously, and thus would be presumptively reliable reporters of changes in puppy population,” Povodator wrote in the decision. “They also would be in a position to be reliable reporters of the rarity of the defendant’s presence on the premises and the minimal level of care she provided. Although the defendant implied that she was something in the nature of a half-time resident (stating that she slept there and ate there three or four times a week), the evidence in so many ways points towards rarity of presence on the premises that the court must reject the defendant’s contentions.”
He added, “The absence of anyone with responsibility for regular ongoing supervision and cleaning of the animals is indicative of neglect—reliance on the tenants with varying available time to tend to the dogs, and doing so on a mostly not exclusively voluntary basis, is no substitute for reasonable care. The dogs may have been well-socialized (as reported) due to their interactions with the tenants, but this was not a home with a few housebroken pet dogs which might moderate the level of care and supervision needed—this was effectively a pet shop, with limited opportunity for the transient dogs to get into any routine (apparently including becoming reliably house-broken, given the repeated shortage of training pads and the frequent excrement on the floor).”
After news of the neglect case broke, Selectman Nick Williams—himself a dog owner—re-raised concerns that he’d voiced in 2019 regarding the non-insulated former incinerator building at the dump that serves as the NCPD Animal Control shelter. Many of the dogs have been kept there since authorities seized them.
Williams and First Selectman Kevin Moynihan have been at odds regarding the adequacy of the building. Williams has called for the town to establish a fund so that those seeking to donate toward a new or refurbished shelters may do so. But Moynihan, after seeking to distance himself from the matter in December, pushed back again, saying at a recent Board of Selectmen meeting that the town must decide on a specific animal shelter project before establishing a fund for it. Officials said Monday that a rebuilt or relocated animal shelter is at least one year away.