Man receives probation in animal cruelty case


A 42-year-old man was convicted of 13 counts of animal cruelty and sentenced to probation yesterday, just more than a year after animal control officers found 20 dogs living in squalor in the Woodbine home he shared with his mother.

Howard County Circuit Court Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. ruled that while Joseph Francis Richards was not the dogs' owner - Richards' 78-year-old mother testified they were hers - he was still responsible for providing "sustenance" for the dogs. Thirteen of the 20 dogs were very thin or emaciated when they were discovered during a search of the Frederick Road home Jan. 2, 2001, according to testimony.

Richards' mother, Katherine, was not in any condition to care for the animals at the time, Kane ruled. Joseph Richards "was not a stranger renting the downstairs apartment," Kane said. "He was part of the family."

Kane sentenced Richards to 13 consecutive 90-day jail terms but suspended the jail time and placed Richards, who has since moved out of his mother's home and now lives in Baltimore, on 18 months of supervised probation.

But the judge acquitted Richards of seven cruelty counts related to animals that appeared to be healthier than the others.

Two of the dogs have since been adopted, according to testimony. The other 18 were euthanized.

According to testimony, animal control officers searched the home in the 15200 block of Frederick Road early last year after receiving an anonymous complaint.

They found Katherine Richards sitting in a chair, upstairs, surrounded by filth and 18 of the dogs. The other two dogs were in another room, according to testimony.

Yesterday, Joseph Richards' attorney, Mary Reese, argued that the dogs belonged to her client's mother, who was not charged.

"Mr. Richards may have slept in that home, but it was his mother who assumed responsibility for the care of these animals," she said.

Katherine Richards testified yesterday that all of the dogs were hers and rattled off several names when shown pictures of the dogs. She fed them, brushed them and took them outside, she said.

"They were my family," she said.

On cross-examination by Assistant State's Attorney Colleen Markey, she also said the house did not smell, and that she cleaned up after the dogs, which contradicted previous testimony by animal control officers about conditions in the house.

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