Woman Sentenced  In Dog Abuse Case

  • Petrina Newcomb, right, and her attorney, Lisa Wellman-Ally, review pictures that were taken of several of Newcomb's neglected Chihuahuas. A judge sentenced Newcomb on Aug. 22, 2017, to serve six months of a 12-month sentence in connection with more than a dozen animal cruelty convictions. (Valley News - Jordan Cuddemi) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jordan Cuddemi

  • Twenty-one Chihuahuas, including this unnamed dog, were surrendered by a Croydon resident in November 2016 to be cared for at a Bedford, N.H., humane society. (Courtesy photograph) —Maggie Cassidy

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/22/2017 3:00:01 PM
Modified: 8/23/2017 12:04:55 AM

Newport — A 48-year-old Croydon woman will spend six months in jail after being convicted of more than a dozen animal cruelty charges.

A third of the 21 Chihuahuas that Petrina Newcomb surrendered from her Pine Hill Road home in 2016 had to be euthanized due to severe health issues, Newport District Court Judge Bruce Cardello said during Newcomb’s plea and sentencing hearing on Tuesday.

The home was littered with household trash, debris and animal waste, according to police accounts and photos and videos that were displayed in court.

“These dogs were made to suffer and were exploited for no other reason than for financial purposes,” Cardello said of Newcomb breeding and selling the dogs.

Cardello called the situation “horrible” and said the evidence presented by the state during the hearing was the type “that makes people sick.”

Assistant Sullivan County Attorney Geoffrey Gallagher, who prosecuted the case, projected pictures and videos onto a large screen in the courtroom, and Newcomb teared up while several of them were displayed.

Some of the most graphic images showed Chihuahuas screeching while being handled by medical professionals after Newcomb surrendered them on Nov. 5. A number of the dogs that were euthanized suffered from ataxia, or the loss of full control of bodily movements, and other neurological disorders. Others had missing teeth and poor dental health, overgrown nails that caused an off gait and flea-related dermatitis.

Videos also depicted a home contaminated with feces, including on top of the fridge and all over mattresses. Newcomb wasn’t living at the home when she decided to surrender the animals, but her ex-husband, Richard, and daughter, Emily, had been living there over the summer, according to Newcomb’s attorney, Lisa Wellman-Ally.

Gallagher declined to comment on why Richard or Emily Newcomb aren’t facing charges.

“(These animals) suffered at your hands,” Cardello said, adding that they had a “horrible existence” in a situation that was “totally unnecessary.”

Wellman-Ally sought to have her client serve only 30 days of a 12-month sentence, saying any additional jail time could impact her full-time employment status as the manager of Dunkin Donuts in Lebanon and make her miss necessary medical appoints for a “potentially cancerous” growth on her neck.

Cardello ultimately sided with Gallagher, who suggested Newcomb serve six months to punish her for her actions and to deter others in the state from engaging in animal cruelty.

Part of Cardello’s reasoning was that this case wasn’t the first time Newcomb has found herself in a situation with more dogs than she could care for properly. Since 2008, she and her ex-husband have surrendered 92 animals, 84 of them dogs, Gallagher said.

“This is not an isolated event,” Cardello said. “It’s not a single dog. It is tens and tens and tens of dogs.”

In addition to her underlying sentence, Newcomb received a $1,240 fine. She also has an additional suspended sentence and fine that could be brought forward if she doesn’t remain of good behavior. She was granted one week of furlough at the end of September to attend medical appointments.

As part of the plea agreement, she can’t own a dog for five years. Cardello also imposed a second condition that she can’t own more than two pets of any kind at one time, and those pets must be spayed or neutered and can’t be sold.

“We are not having this happen again,” he said.

At the outset of the hearing, Newcomb pleaded no contest to five Class A and eight Class B misdemeanor animal cruelty charges. All other charges against her were dropped.

Her attorney, Wellman-Ally, addressed the judge and painted a different picture of the situation than prosecutors had, saying her client was “the one left holding the bag that had to take responsibility for the animals.”

Richard Newcomb is in a nursing home and Emily Newcomb has mental health issues, so neither are in a position to take responsibility, Wellman-Ally said. She said it was Richard Newcomb who was unwilling to get the dogs spayed and neutered, so they “were just breeding” amongst each other.

Gallagher objected to Wellman-Ally’s assertions, saying it was Petrina Newcomb who signed a surrender form, which indicates that she was the owner, keeper and caretaker of the animals.

Wellman-Ally ended by saying “my client does acknowledge that she was responsible for the pets and turned them over.”

That process began on Nov. 4, 2016, when Croydon Police Chief Richard Lee approached Newcomb after concerns were raised about the conditions insider her home and she agreed to surrender the dogs, as well as one cat.

The following day, Andrea Congers, an animal rights advocate from Grantham who had been trying to get authorities to investigate the care Newcomb was providing the dogs, went with her husband and another woman to the Pine Hill Road home.

Newcomb and her daughter handed the animals over and the Animal Rescue League in Bedford, N.H., agreed to take them. It ended up costing the Animal Rescue League $15,000 to $20,000, according to Gallagher, the prosecutor. He said it was his understanding that the humane society was not seeking restitution to recoup the expenditure.

Animal Rescue League Director of Outreach and Investigations Maureen Prendergast said in a telephone interview on Tuesday, “We do not expect to see any restitution.”

All of the dogs who weren’t euthanized have since been adopted out, she said.

Prendergast encouraged people to speak up if they receive a puppy or dog from a breeder and something doesn’t seem right.

“I think in too many instances people are just relieved to have their new pet and wish to put everything else behind them,” she said. “But knowing there are other animals potentially at risk, we need you to be their voices.”

The adjudication of Newcomb’s case comes just a few months after more than 80 Great Danes were removed from a suspected puppy mill in Wolfeboro, N.H. Those dogs also allegedly were living in the same filthy conditions as the Chihuahuas.

That case prompted New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu to dial in on animal cruelty laws in the state. Earlier this month, he signed an executive order revamping a committee that advises the state on animal welfare issues in hopes of strengthening laws to prevent future cruelty, according to The Associated Press.

Currently, a person in New Hampshire can only be charged with a felony if he or she has a prior animal cruelty conviction, or purposefully beats, whips, tortures or mutilates an animal.

Lee, the Croydon chief, said he felt a sigh of relief at the close of Newcomb’s hearing. He said he was “extremely satisfied” with the outcome of the case.

“I think that the message the court sent will reverberate throughout the entire state,” Lee said. “I think it will open some eyes.”

Lee was no stranger to the fact that Petrina Newcomb and her ex-husband had been breeding and selling dogs out of the home they once shared.

Beginning in 2007, police received a report from someone who purchased a Chihuahua from the Newcombs and said several animals were living in deplorable conditions. At that time, Lee said, he didn’t have grounds to launch an animal cruelty case. However, a child was living inside the home at the time, so the Department of Children and Families investigated and told the Newcombs to clean up the home.

They did, according to Lee, and at that time surrendered 50 of 72 Chihuahuas.

In 2014, Lee investigated the Newcombs for not having rabies or dog licenses for 24 dogs in their care, and Petrina Newcomb ended up pleading guilty to several violations, according to court records.

The following year, she was charged with selling Chihuahuas without required health certificates, and a judge convicted her of that in January.

Many of the dogs Petrina or Richard Newcomb have surrendered in the past were brought to the Upper Valley Humane Society in Enfield, the prosecutor said in court.

Reached by telephone on Tuesday, Stephanie Frommer, director of operations, said there is nobody currently working at the humane society who was there when the Newcombs made a surrender.

Therefore, she said, no one could comment on what the dogs’ conditions were.

Speaking generally, she said the humane society takes great care in gathering information from the party who surrenders an animal. If animal cruelty is suspected, officials would reach out to authorities.

“If there is something that rises to a level of concern, absolutely,” she said.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.

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