SIDNEY – The Third District Court of Appeals in Lima has affirmed the Sidney Municipal Court’s ruling that a Sidney woman must forfeit 17 French bulldogs that were found during a fire in her house in March 2019.
Grazyna Latocha, 69, was convicted of cruelty against companion animals and deprivation of necessary veterinary medical sustenance on Aug. 30, 2019, following a two-day jury trial in Sidney Municipal Court.
The case stemmed from a March 26, 2019, fire at 223 N. Walnut Ave. in Sidney. Firefighters discovered 18 French bulldogs in the basement of the house even though Latocha said there were no animals in the residence. Seventeen of the dogs survived and have been in custody of the Shelby County Animal Shelter for the past 13 months.
On Oct. 22, 2019, the Sidney Municipal Court sentenced Latocha to 90 days in jail, with 60 days suspended, and three years of probation. She was ordered to have no breeding or companion animals while on probation, and the 17 French bulldogs were ordered to be forfeited to the Shelby County Animal Shelter.
Latocha also was fined $750, with $500 suspended, and ordered to pay $250 plus court costs. Additionally, she was ordered to pay $17,000 in restitution for her dogs’ care, paying at least $500 a month.
The sentence was stayed, however, as Latocha immediately stated her desire to file an appeal.
On Monday, the Third District Court of Appeals rejected all three of the assertions in Latocha’s appeal – that her trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance, that the court committed an abuse of discretion in ordering her to forfeit her dogs and have no companion or breeding dogs in the future, and that the guilty finding was not supported by legally sufficient evidence.
Jeff Amick, the law director and prosecutor for Sidney, said local officials are pleased with the court’s decision.
“When you win, you want to be gracious,” he said. “But I’m very happy that we prevailed.”
While the Third District Court of Appeals ruled against Latocha, she has 45 days to file another appeal. Until all legal options are exhausted, Shelby County Sheriff’s Deputy/Dog Warden Kelli Ward said the Shelby County Animal Shelter will continue to care for the dogs.
In her appeal with the Third District Court of Appeals, Latocha argued there was insufficient evidence presented to convict her.
However, the court ruled that testimony from firefighters, veterinarian Dr. Amanda Wagner and Ward was sufficient to convict Latocha.
In the decision, the Third District Court of Appeals stated firefighter/paramedic Chance Guisinger overheard Latocha say there were no people or pets in the house. But when firefighters searched the residence, they found 18 French bulldogs – 12 adults and six puppies – in the basement.
Firefighters Guisinger, Quinten Pence and Bryan Ramge testified that they found dogs in kennels stacked on top of each other. Guisinger said it looked as though the dogs were standing just on grated wire, and they would defecate on top of the other dogs.
“Firefighter Guisinger indicated that the kennels were wired shut so tightly that he had to cut multiple times with a wire cutter to get them open,” the Third District Court of Appeals decision states. “He testified it looked like the dogs had been locked inside for months because there was not a regular sliding locking mechanism utilized on the kennels.”
Ramge testified he saw puppies swimming on each other’s backs to stay above the water in the basement. The firefighters reported there was 6 to 12 inches of water in the basement when they arrived.
The firefighters also testified the dogs smelled awful because of the feces on them.
“Some of the dogs were so gross, you didn’t want to even grab them,” Guisinger said.
Wagner testified that of the 12 adult dogs she examined, three males and three females had significant enough ailments to be noted and that was an abnormal number of dogs with serious health issues. One of the six puppies died the first night in the shelter, Ward reported.
“Moreover, according to Dr. Wagner, half of the adult dogs had notable maladies, some of them visibly distressing that would have been readily apparent to anyone handling the dogs,” the Third District Court of Appeals decision states. “In addition, the dogs’ cages were tied so tightly that it took multiple cuts from wire cutters to remove them. Any and all of these instances could constitute unjustifiable suffering through acts or neglect on Latocha’s part. Thus sufficient evidence was presented to convict Latocha of a violation.
“While Latocha argues that the testimony regarding feces being in the bottom of cages was questionable, the jury was entitled to find the firefighters’ testimony credible.”
Latocha also argued she received ineffective assistance of trial counsel, contending that her counsel was ineffective for failing to submit any photographs showing the wire cages in which the dogs were housed. She argued the photos would show the cages had pans in the bottom and were appropriate for housing the dogs.
However, the Third District Court of Appeals found no evidence that the dogs were housed in the cages with pans prior to being found by the firefighters.
“The pictures Latocha introduced at the hearing on having her dogs released showed cages she hoped to put some of the dogs in if they were returned to her,” the decision states. “In fact, even in those pictures, Latocha did not have enough cages for all of the dogs.”
Latocha also argued Sidney Municipal Court abused its discretion by ordering her to forfeit her French Bulldogs and have no companion or breeding animals in the future.
However, the Third District Court of Appeals found the Municipal Court has clear authority to do so.
“The trial court’s decision is supported here by multiple facts: 1) the animals were found in appalling conditions; 2) when firefighters were at the scene, Latocha indicated there were not even any animals in her burning residence, establishing Latocha’s callous nature towards the dogs; and 3) many of the dogs had serious maladies,” the Third District Court of Appeals decision states.