Great Dane Owner: Stephen King Town Out to Get Her, Photos Show Mud Not Feces
OSSIPEE — On the final day of the Great Dane animal cruelty trial Tuesday the dogs' owner took the stand.
The trial picked back up after a short hiatus. It was originally scheduled for four days in October but the trial did not wrap up in the time allotted, forcing another day to be scheduled. Christina Fay is facing 12 counts of animal cruelty after the seizure of 75 Great Dane dogs from her Wolfeboro mansion back in June.
Fay’s lead counsel, Ken Barker began with the direct examination of the defendant.
Fay took the stand, and gave some background into her history – she grew up caring for dogs and horses. As an adult, she testified, she got married and adopted six children who all had exposure to drugs or alcohol. She said her children “all have pretty severe special needs."
She moved from New York to Maine, then to Wolfeboro in 2015.
She said she has been breeding Great Danes for the past 37 years. She started breeding European Great Danes specifically in 2012 while she was still living in Maine but said after awhile she knew she needed more space for her dogs so she began searching for a place with more land.
She testified she found the Warren Sands Road home in 2015 and said before buying the property, she checked with the town to make sure it was OK to bring that many large dogs to the 54 acres property.
Fay said just 36 hours after she moved in, she received the first complaint about the dogs barking from a neighbor who called police.
She testified that moving to Wolfeboro was nothing like what she thought it was going to be.
"It felt like we landed in a Stephen King novel town. We were so unwelcomed,” Fay said. “It never felt like home.”
Fay testified this is why two of her employees (Jess and Aaron Merrill) who moved with her from Maine left.
Upon cross examination later, prosecuting attorney Simon Brown would question the reasons the Merrills quit.
Barker asked Fay about being called a “puppy mill” and if she made a profit.
“I’m trying so hard not to laugh,” she said. “I don’t think I met 2 percent of my expenses.” Fay said her collection of European Great Danes was a hobby. “I planned on having some fun, and I did, we did.”
In one year, Fay brought the dogs to see Dr. Kate Battenfelder in Bartlett 289 times, which was documented.
During a slideshow of photos of a clean home where the dogs were living, some photos she testified were taken just weeks before the seizure, Fay told the court the brown mess that the prosecution’s witnesses said was feces, was not feces at all. It was in fact mud.
She testified in a typical day in 2015 and 2016, her staff of three and herself would get the house cleaned by 11:30 a.m.
“It was very friendly and happy. We laughed a lot. It was just a wonderful way of life.”
She said she believed in feeding her dogs a raw food diet, which included raw chicken with bones, raw turkey, duck, tripe and mackerel.
She also said she didn’t ever water her dogs inside the home for three reasons. 1. To make sure they were drinking enough water 2. She was concerned about the threat of a dog getting its neck stuck in a bucket. 3. Because Danes have such big jowls, the mess they make with the water all over the floor creates a slippery situation. She did say her dogs were given water three times a day when they were let outside, a statement contradictory to the testimonies of Marilyn Kelly and the other whistleblower, teenager Annie Newell.
Fay testified she did not consider herself a commercial breeder.
She said she had "one of the best collections of this breed, which is a great privilege and honor for me. To me they are Van Goghs and Rembrandts.”
She said it was more than breeding, she was proud to produce something remarkable. And people in the business knew her bloodlines.
“I have never sold a puppy or gave a puppy to someone I didn’t meet, ever, ever,” she said.
Fay testified later she gave nine puppies to her former employee Marilyn Kelly to rehome. Those dogs were all brought to the Conway Area Humane Society, as Kelly testified earlier in the trial.
Fay testified that she would have just one or two litters of puppies each year. She would never breed dogs that were sick or suffered from ailments like cherry eye.
A Perfect Storm
Fay testified that it was a series of unfortunate events paired with bad timing that led to the seizure of 75 Great Danes from her property June 16.
She lost employees. One of her workers was pregnant and went on maternity leave at the end of May. She said she had an ad to fill the spot on Indeed but responses were slow. At that time it was just her and one of her employees Julia, but Fay testified she could hardly work because of an old knee injury.
She hired Kelly, who testified she was so appalled by the conditions of the home, she began to take photos to share with law enforcement, which lead to the seizure. But Fay testified they were going to be short staffed for just a short period of time.
A previous employee, who was finishing school at UNH, was returning and another man was scheduled to start in a few weeks.
She blamed the condition of the kennels, specifically in the basement, on the timing of the raid. She said she and Julia Smith cleaned every day in the morning, but that day they didn’t have time to clean because the arrest and seizure started in the morning. She said the raid didn’t end until well into the night with the removal of the dogs in the basement cages. By the end of the day, those dogs would have been in their kennels for 33 straight hours, something Fay testified, “literally makes me sick to think about.”
She said the humid, hot conditions that week were also to blame because she could not let her dogs outside for as long or frequent as they were accustomed to. She said the messy stools found in the home was not diarrhea from giardia, but instead she had given the dogs raw tripe recently, something she hadn’t done in five weeks.
Barker chimed in that strange males with guns drawn also could have had an anxiety effect on the dogs.
She ended her testimony in the afternoon, saying that without her dogs, “to say I’ve been in despair is an understatement.”
Upon cross examination, Attorney Simon Brown, asked Fay about an argument with the couple from Maine who came to New Hampshire with her. Fay previously stated that it was the unwelcoming town of Wolfeboro that forced Jess Merrill to quit, but Brown pressed this, accusing Jess of leaving because she was unhappy about the conditions of the home and the treatment of the dogs.
Fay then brushed it off saying Jess Merrill had mental issues and wasn’t being medicated at the time. She said the reason they left was because they missed Maine.
Brown questioned Fay about witness testimony, like Newell, who said the floors were slick with urine and feces. And the one day Newell worked, she testified that she witnessed Fay at the counter in the kitchen eating lunch with a couple other employees, while feces and urine was all over the floors and chicken juice dripped from the countertops.
Fay said this was untrue.
Brown all asked about the fecal samples taken at the residence – all eight tested positive for giardia. Something, Fay testified, her dogs did not have.
Another inconsistency brought up by Brown was the number of litters of puppies. Fay testified she typically had one or two litters a year, but Brown pointed out in 2016 she had 11 litters. Fay said only one puppy was born in a few of those and “singletons don’t make a litter.”
Brown also brought up the frequency of vet visits: 289 with Battenfelder in one year, as Fay had boasted earlier in direct examination. But Brown said these trips weren’t just wellness visits. Some were for dog fights, injesting foreign objects (like rope toys, leashes, Armoral wipes), caesarian sections, and semen collections.
One of her dogs, Harazah, Brown pointed out had 17 semen collections in 17 months. He challenged Fay’s description of a “perfect storm” with statistics, saying in June 2015, Fay had 40 dogs with four to five staff members, but in June 2017, Fay had almost double the amount of dogs with only herself and Smith to care for them.
Judge Greenhalgh said he has testimony to go over and will make a decision on the 12 charges of animal cruelty.