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Seventy-six dogs seized in Oxford

By: Melissa Stagnaro, Sun Staff Writer

Published: October 14th, 2008

OXFORD - Seventy-six Pomeranians were rescued from a property in Oxford on Sunday in a coordinated effort by the Chenango County Sheriff 's Department and the Chenango County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). Their owner was taken into custody the following day.

At the behest of deputies, SPCA Executive Director Carol Hedlund led a team of SPCA board members and staff into the house at 145 Williams Road in Oxford to retrieve the animals. She described the conditions they found as "horrific."

Hedlund, who has been involved with a dozen similar seizures including a puppy mill bust in Chenango County earlier this year, ranked it as one of the worst she has seen.

"Everything in the house was covered in feces. We had to wear respirator masks to go get the dogs," said Hedlund. Those who entered the house also used mentholated rub under their noses to mask the strong odor of fecal matter and urine. Duct tape secured pant legs and boots.

The double-wide trailer was unoccupied with the exception of the dogs. Hedlund reported that bags of food had been torn open and left for the animals. The contents, which were still being consumed by the dogs, had been defecated and urinated upon.

The dogs, which are considered evidence in the case against their owner, were taken to the SPCA where they will remain for the time being.

In addition to the 76 dogs recovered from the house, the remains of more than a dozen more were discovered in a wooded area adjacent to the structure.

"We took out 13 bags with at least one dog in each," said Hedlund. A more accurate count was difficult because of the decomposition of the remains.

Hedlund stated that she believed the remains had been recently removed from the house, explaining that a cardboard box that held some of the bags did not appear to have been weathered.

The owner of the property, Steven W. Fong, 56, of 405 Clinton Avenue in Brooklyn, was arrested on Monday. He was charged with 76 counts of failure to provide for an impounded animal.

A pit bull was with Fong when he was taken into custody. The dog, which appeared in good condition, was taken to the SPCA as well. Fong, who referred to the dogs as his "family," has refused to sign custody of the dogs over to the SPCA.

The arrest was made as a result of an extensive investigation conducted by the Chenango County Sheriff's Department following an anonymous tip received by law enforcement officers on Sunday, Oct. 5.

In the course of the week, Deputies Debra Ives and Josh Gould investigated the complaint. According to Sergeant Timothy Urnaitis, who coordinated the seizure, their legwork yielded the evidence necessary to secure a search warrant.

Deputy Ives conducted numerous interviews during that process, including one with Fong himself at the Williams Road property on the morning of Oct. 11.

"[Deputy Ives] did not have enough to do a seizure at that time," said Sgt. Urnaitis. That interview did, however, serve to solidify evidence against Fong that was used in obtaining the search warrant.

Both the Sheriff 's Department and SPCA reported receiving a large number of phone calls about the property in the time between the initial report and the execution of the warrant to seize the dogs.

"Sometimes people don't realize it takes awhile to get all of the information we need," said Sgt. Urnaitis.

If protocol is not followed in the investigation phase, there is a chance that the dogs will be given back to the owner, said Dr. Joe Olver of Jockeyport Veterinary Services. Olver has been consulted by various law enforcement agencies and the SPCA in similar cases. She traveled from Afton on Tuesday to examine the dogs.

It is unclear whether this is an instance of hoarding, or if the dogs were being bred in a 'puppy mill' operation. According to Hedlund, Olver identified at least one Pomeranian who had clearly given birth within the last month during her examination. No puppies of that age were found in the house at the time of the seizure.

After examining the dogs, Hedlund said Olver believed the majority were suffering from neurological issues. She planned to consult experts in the field and conduct additional research before making a determination about their health.

According to Sgt. Urnaitis, at the time of his arrest Fong claimed he had no previous criminal history, but did report he had been ticketed in Brooklyn for failing to license at least one dog.

Fong's primary residence is an historic brownstone in Brooklyn's Clinton Hill neighborhood. The home, designed by famed architect William Tubby, is listed with a New York realty firm for $3,995,000.

According to the Sheriff 's Department, Fong appeared before Town of Oxford Justice John Wideman yesterday and is currently being held on $8,000 cash bail. His next appearance before the Town of Oxford court is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 20.

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