Animal welfare advocates were encouraged Tuesday by the sentence that a State Supreme Court justice imposed on a former Buffalo Police Department cellblock attendant who will serve a minimum of nearly three years in prison for his convictions on dogfighting charges.
Shanon W. Richardson, 35, had been found guilty in July of three felony counts of training and fighting dogs, plus three misdemeanors of mistreating animals and having animal-fighting paraphernalia.
Representatives of the SPCA Serving Erie County and other animal rights advocates, who were in court for the sentencing, were pleased with the prison time and the progress being made in prosecuting cases of animal abuse. When it comes to dog fighting, the process can be particularly tough, an SPCA spokeswoman said.
“It’s such a clandestine business,” said Gina M. Browning, director of public relations for the SPCA. “The problem with dogfighting is you are dealing with some dangerous people, and people are afraid to come forward. This is animal cruelty at the highest level of violence.”
Dogfights are held for gambling and entertainment, and even the animals that “win” can suffer greatly. The Humane Society of the United States says on its website, “Dogs used in these events often die of blood loss, shock, dehydration, exhaustion, or infection hours or even days after the fight. Other animals are often sacrificed as well; dogs who are born ‘cold,’ or won’t fight, may be kept around to sic other dogs on.”
Fight “promoters” move from place to place, making it hard to track down the actual events.
Browning said the key to building successful cases is an increased awareness about dog fighting and its costs.
“There has been more understanding of the evidence for it,” Browning said, which has helped police know what to look for.
Richardson, who has been free on bail, consistently denied that he was training his dogs for fights.
His involvement was discovered by accident.
On Dec. 7, 2013, while Richardson was at work, his wife thought she heard an intruder at their Erb Street home and called police. Instead of a break-in, the responding officers found a loose pit bull mix dog roaming the downstairs of the house, and another adult dog in a filthy cage in the basement. Two puppies were in dog houses in the yard and garage.
There were animal treadmills, break sticks (to separate fighters) and weights in the basement, and the adult dogs had scars and cuts. All the animals appeared malnourished, investigators said.
“Animals are not people, Mr. Richardson, but we have a moral obligation to treat them humanely,” Justice Christopher J. Burns told Richardson before he imposed indeterminate sentences of 16 months to four years incarceration for each of the three felonies, to run consecutively; sentences of one year each on two of the misdemeanors, and 90 days on the final charge, to run concurrently with the felony terms.
Although Richardson and his attorney asked for leniency, Assistant District Attorney Justin T. Wallens, who prosecuted the case, requested that the judge consider significant prison time, noting that Richardson had perverted the dogs’ protective instincts to make them fighters “for his own amusement.”
After the animals were confiscated, one of them disappeared from the Buffalo Animal Shelter. Although an out-of-town animal rescue group reported later that it had found the dog, it was never returned. The other adult dog remained in the shelter, but in July 2014, it bit an employee and it was euthanized in September.
In addition to the prison time, Burns signed an order that Richardson be barred from owning any animals for five years after his release.
Defense attorney Jorge S. de Rosas said he plans to file an appeal. Richardson was fired from the Police Department following his conviction.