Accused dog-owner refuses to give them up

The owner of 17 abused dogs refused in court yesterday to allow the animals to be given up for adoption.

Anahola resident Steve A. Cummings, 47, wants to keep his dogs for either the duration of the trial or the date of his change of plea, scheduled for March 20.

Cummings pleaded “not guilty” to 20 charges of animal cruelty and 20 counts of animal desertion Tuesday.

Seventeen of Cummings’ dogs were found barely alive and three were found dead on his property in December.

Brandon Flores, Cummings’ attorney, said his client loves his dogs and that he shouldn’t be “demonized” in the press.

“He is extremely distraught as to what happened,” Flores said. “He had made arrangements for a family member to care for the dogs pending a trip. Ultimately, Steve was going to do it and then the family member was going to do it. It was basically an accident.”

Kaua‘i Humane Society Executive Director Dr. Becky Rhoades wasn’t convinced.

“This was deliberate starvation,” she said.

Cummings said he couldn’t afford to post bond for the dogs in a hearing in Judge Trudy Senda’s courtroom yesterday.

Instead, he wanted to find care other than the Kaua‘i Humane Society for the dogs.

The bond would have covered the dogs’ costs incurred so far for their treatment at the Kaua‘i Humane Society since their rescue date of Dec. 6.

The standard rate for dog care is $10 a day, Rhoades said. Multiply that by 17 dogs and two months, add in the emergency veterinary care, and it’s easy to see why not just anyone can adequately provide for so many animals, Rhoades said.

“We’ve put a lot of effort and time into these dogs,” Rhoades said. “We’ve done a lot of training and socializing to get them ready to be adopted.”

Instead, whether the dogs will be given up for adoption will be determined based on the findings of the case.

Before the Kaua‘i Humane Society forfeits the dogs to Cummings, he will have to agree to several stipulations, Rhoades said.

Such requirements include mandatory veterinary checkups and frequent visits by the humane society staff.

If Cummings agrees to Senda’s and the humane society’s suggestions, he will have the opportunity to have custody of his dogs until the end of his trial, provided he doesn’t change his plea, Flores said.

He also will be required to foot the bill for the dogs’ temporary care, as well as reimburse the Kaua’i Humane Society.

Cummings’ case marks the first time a new Hawai‘i law related to the fiscal responsibility of those charged with animal abuse has been put to use.

The law, enacted in July, is intended to defray the high costs that often burden such entities as the U.S. Humane Society during the lengthy judicial process. Such trials have bankrupted other humane societies in the nation, Rhoades said.

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