‘No contest’ plea in abused dog case

An Anahola resident facing 40 counts of animal abuse pleaded “no contest” yesterday to half of the charges, to avoid prolonging what his attorney called an already “emotionally exhausting” process.

The case, which has been harrowing for both sides, stems from the discovery of 20 mistreated dogs — three of which were found dead — discovered at an Anahola residence Dec. 6.

The 17 emaciated surviving animals were nourished back to health by the Kaua‘i Humane Society, which seized the dogs upon finding them.

The Humane Society initially charged the dogs’ owner, Steve A. Cummings, with 20 counts of animal cruelty and 20 counts of animal desertion.

Cummings pleaded “not guilty” to the allegations Jan. 30, but pleaded “no contest” to the misdemeanor animal cruelty charges yesterday.

As part of a plea deal, the remaining 20 counts of animal desertion were dismissed with prejudice. Cummings also was ordered to surrender the dogs to the Humane Society, to provide any necessary photographs and records required for the pre-sentence investigation, and to pay $12,150 in restitution.

The dogs incurred roughly that dollar amount of care while in the society’s custody through February.

Cummings’ friend Brian Taniguchi took over custody of the dogs Feb. 6. Following their release, they were visited by Humane Society staff daily.

Those visits decreased to three and four times a week until April, when staff felt the dogs were in “fair” condition, Dr. Becky Rhoades, executive director of the Humane Society, said.

Ideally, she continued, the dogs would have been adopted by families who could offer more attention.

“Having 17 dogs cared for by one or two people isn’t the same as a family having one or two of them,” Rhoades said.

While under Taniguchi’s care, the dogs were not permitted to hunt or leave the premises.

The animals must be returned to the Humane Society no later than Cummings’ sentencing date, which is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 7 in District Court.

The dogs will be available for adoption to eligible applicants 48 hours after being returned to the Humane Society in order to allow time for spaying, neutering and medical attention, Rhoades said.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Lawrence Strauss said Cummings is allowed to turn over the dogs prior to the sentencing to relieve any costs.

In his defense, Brandon Flores, Cummings’ attorney, said it has been his client’s position throughout the case that the dogs were neglected as the result of a miscommunication.

Cummings was going to go out of town and had asked someone else to take care of the animals, but canceled his trip, Flores said.

When Cummings didn’t leave, the person he had asked to watch the dogs assumed that responsibility was no longer a concern, which resulted in two weeks without care.

“Steve loved those dogs,” Flores said, noting that the decision to forfeit the animals and forego the trial wasn’t an easy one.

“It was hard for him,” Flores said. “At this point, he wanted to take responsibility for what happened.”

Cummings faces up to $2,000 in fines for each misdemeanor as well as up to one year imprisonment for each of the 20 counts of animal abuse, which, Senda said, could run consecutively.

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.

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