Couple guilty in abuse of dogs

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 5

SWANTON — A couple were found guilty of 12 counts of animal abuse here yesterday.

Mary Barker, 40, and Jose Vasquez, 63, were convicted of not providing sufficient shelter, exercise, and air circulation for six animals, three of which they kept in stacked crates in a closed closet. The Swanton couple operated Mary and Joe’s Petland on Airport Highway, where they sold dogs with forged veterinary records and pedigrees, the court found.

“We’re very pleased with the outcome,” prosecutor Colin McQuade said.

The defendants vowed to appeal the decision. “I am totally in shock about the way they lie,” Ms. Barker said.

Jurors said their conclusions were reached without much contention. “We stuck to the facts,” juror David Hardy said. “They just didn’t take care of those dogs, and she misled people.”

Added juror Jim Baker: “They just shouldn’t keep dog cages in closets. That got to me.”

Mr. Baker blamed the abuse on the size of the pet store. “Too many dogs, too fast. It just got out of hand.” Officials seized 55 dogs from the store in December. The couple were convicted of keeping 10 German Shepherd puppies in a single small travel case.

The fate of the dogs is undecided. They are under the care of the Fulton County Humane Society, but Mr. McQuade said there was a possibility some might be returned to the couple. The society has filed suit seeking payment from the couple for its expenses, and it is unlikely the dogs’ fate will be determined until the suit is settled, he said.

Ms. Barker said she was at the center of a government conspiracy to kill animals. “It’s the dog pound people who kill dogs, not me,” she said. “They don’t like me saving what they kill.”

She accused authorities of purposefully killing some of her dogs “so it would look good for them” and their case. She has said the dogs had died of “homesick ness.”

Accused of altering sections of veterinary records to make dogs appear healthier than they were, Ms. Barker said, “I probably just misspelled parts and whited them out. I’m not the greatest speller.”

She hopes to reopen a breeding business, she said, although she wants to deal exclusively in small dogs.

Mr. McQuade said he had no sympathy for the defendants because their actions extended beyond animal cruelty. Ms. Barker and Mr. Vasquez were also found guilty of tax evasion and theft charges. In addition, Ms. Barker was convicted of resisting arrest but cleared of obstructing official business.

“This was a scam operation, not just abuse,” Mr. McQuade said.

The couple face sentencing July 30. All of the charges were misdemeanors, but Mr. McQuade said the couple could face up to 10 years in prison if their sentences are served consecutively.

“I think some jail time is appropriate,” he said.