Photo of Maya at the shelter July 20, before her health returned and she was adopted.
A tearful, remorseful Becky L. Frens pled guilty this afternoon in Town of Batavia Court to one count of overdriving, torturing and injuring an animal and failure to provide proper sustenance in the case of her Labrador retriever mixed breed named Maya.
Under the state Agriculture & Markets law, Article 26, Section 353, the charge is a Class A misdemeanor. The maximum punishment is jail time of more than 15 days but not more than one year, and a fine of up to $1,000. As part of a plea agreement, Frens will serve no jail time nor pay any fine whatsoever.
She will pay restitution and, under supervision by Genesee Justice, volunteer 100 hours of community service work in the next 10 months, "obviously not at the animal shelter," said Batavia Town Court Judge Michael Cleveland.
A total of $116.84 in restitution must be paid to the nurse whose family adopted Maya, and $423.17 must be paid to the Volunteers For Animals to reimburse them for Maya's medical expenses while she was at the Genesee County shelter and in foster care awaiting a forever home.
Alba explained today that Frens took the dog into her home at 3475 Pearl Street Road in the Town of Batavia, even though it was not in good health, because it was her mother's pet and her mother was gravely ill.
First Assistant District Attorney Melissa Cianfrini said when Frens found herself in that situation, she realizes now that she made "honest mistakes" and "bad decisions."
"It's still your responsibility to take care of an animal once you assume responsibility for it," Cianfrini said.
When the dog was brought to the shelter by an animal control officer after neighbors called for help, a trooper happened to be there, Cianfrini said. The trooper was so alarmed at the animal's condition, that he went to Frens' home to see what the circumstances were and found other pets there who were healthy.
Doing too little, too late
Receipts for over-the-counter shampoos and treatments showed that some effort was made to help the ailing dog. But Cianfrini said Frens did not act as quickly as she should have and the dog's condition continued to deteriorate.
Maya was subsequently diagnosed with multiple skin infections, mange, double ear infections that left her only able to hear a dog whistle, and her uncut nails were so long they cut into the pads of her feet and hobbled her movement.
Cianfrini said the plea agreement "doesn't put everything back" as it should be.
"Maya is a beautiful dog and she's still on the mend," she said, at which point she praised the "great work" by many who made that mending possible: State Police Troop A -- Batavia Barracks; State Street Animal Hospital staff, particulary veterinarians Fran Woodworth and Gwendolyn Wollney; Animal Control Officer Ann Marie Brade; and the tireless Volunteers For Animals, who ferried Maya to and from the vet, walked her, fed her, loved her, comforted and aided her.
Attorney Alba offered no excuses for his client, other than to say when Frens had tried to call shelters to relinquish ownership of Maya, she was always told there was no space.
"She never intended to harm Maya," Alba said. "She never intended to do anything malicious. She's extremely remorseful."
When asked if she had anything to say on her own behalf, a shaky Frens, who wore gray suede ankle boots, black cargo pants and a blue-and-black diamond-print knit top, used boths hands to steady herself at the table in front of the judge.
"I feel so bad this happened," she said softly, crying and sniffling as she spoke. "I tried to take care of my mom. I should have taken (Maya) to the vet, but I didn't have the means at the time."
In accepting the plea deal offered by the DA's office, Judge Cleveland said both sides met in conference last month and this month, and he feels the plea deal they came up with is fair.
Cleveland said in cases like this emotions can overshadow the facts at first, but as the "wheels of justice grind slowly" the facts of the case come to the forefront.
Judge: justice has been served
"The purpose (of the plea) is not to please everybody," the judge said. "It's to do justice. With restitution, people were compensated. I'm glad to hear Maya is doing well. Justice has been served in my opinion.
"(The defendant) has pled guilty to the charge and accepted responsibility; she has not tried to get out of it. The public interest will not be served in any way by jail time."
Cleveland went on to emphasize that volunteering hours for community service is not punishment, nor is it intended to be; it is meant to serve the community -- just like scouting or 4-H.
"If all we do is take from the community, pretty soon there'll be nothing left to take," Cleveland said.
Meanwhile, Frens, who is in her mid-50s, has 30 days to file a written appeal of the adjudication.
Outcome: better than it used to be
For the Volunteers For Animals, the outcome, while perhaps not ideal, is more or less deemed "the best they could hope for."
Time was not long ago, according to some, that animal neglect cases like this never even made it to court.
Brenda Cromwell, who has volunteered at the shelter since 2001, said after court today that the first case she recalls that sparked comparable outrage was 10 years ago in Le Roy when Stanley the beagle was found dead and people wrote letters and got angry about his treatment.
"This is an improvement over how things were," Cromwell said. "It's probably the best that we can expect."
Still, Cromwell is saddened by Maya's case, which came to light on July 10 when the dog somehow managed to get out of the house and make its way down the long gravel driveway. There it was found by neighbors across the street, who said they were shocked and appalled at the dog's emaciated condition; they called dispatch to report their pathetic discovery.
"She was so beaten down, so broken, when she came to us," Cromwell said. "She was happy for any attention at all; she was so neglected. I think (Frens) gave up. That dog was totally neglected."
(Photo below of Maya taken on July 20, which is 10 days after she was first brought to the shelter. With her nails trimmed, she could manage to walk better.)
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