Who, age What Where When Last Known Address
Frank Rich, 53 157 malnourished dogs & 22 more found dead

Willow, AK

Matanuska-Susitna Borough

January 10, 2011  
Type of Crime Other Crimes #/Type of animal(s) involved Case Status Next Court Date /Courthouse
  sited for unsanitary conditions in 2007 179 Siberian husky's & Malamute dogs Convicted Palmer District Court, The Alaska Court of Appeals

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough animal shelter is scrambling to make room for nearly 160 skinny huskies after an animal-control officer found the dogs starving to death at the home of a breeder.

Frank J. Rich, 53, plead not guilty to 50 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty. Unemployed since October, Rich told troopers he struggled to keep the dogs fed but had not asked for help from the shelter.

  Photo courtesy of Bob Hallinen/Anchorage Daily News   Rich said in court this week that he was unemployed for about a third of the past year, guessing that he made about $24,000 over the past 12 months. It's unclear how much of that money came from selling puppies.

A trooper arrested Rich, finding 16 dead dogs stacked in a Conex shipping container and dozens more without food or water.


Photo courtesy of Bob Hallinen/Anchorage Daily News

Borough employees and volunteers -- including at least one local musher -- spent hours collecting the emaciated animals and hauling them in a horse trailer and dog trucks to the borough shelter near Palmer.

Mat-Su animal control manager Richard Stockdale estimates 157 huskies have been impounded, including a straw-colored female that gave birth to six puppies recently.

  Photo courtesy of Bob Hallinen/Anchorage Daily News

The bony huskies slept in quarantine beds or hunkered low, hugging the walls Tuesday as workers continued to weigh and medicate the dogs.

The shelter is running low on medicine, officials said.  The borough is home to countless rural dog owners, and it's not unusual for animal control officers to discover neglected animals. But the wave of dogs arriving from Rich's homestead is testing the limits of the new $5 million borough shelter building.  "This is the most dogs that they have impounded at one time, at least that anyone can remember, in the last 10 years," Stockdale said.

Workers and employees stayed at the shelter until about 3:30 Tuesday morning checking the health of the new dogs, veterinarian Katrina Zwolinski said in the lobby, her blue hoodie flecked with dog hair. Barks echoed from every corner of the building as a 3-month-old tabby pawed at Zwolinski's elbow from a nearby cage.

The huskies are in "horrible" condition, she said.  "All of the dogs have long hair, and you can still see the hip bones. ... Their spines. Their ribs. They're all very, very thin," Zwolinski said.  The dogs appear to be a mix of Siberian huskies and malamutes, she said. "They're not being bred for mushers. They're being bred for pets."

Rich, who lives in a remote cabin in the Montana Creek area near Mile 92 of the Parks Highway, was cited in 2007 for unsanitary conditions at his kennel, according to the borough.

The latest investigation began when a tipster called Mat-Su animal control officer Darla Tampke Erskine to report that Rich had quit his job and that 75 of his dogs had died, according to a trooper affidavit.

Borough officials knew Rich has had as many as 170 dogs in the past and say he has a kennel license pending to house 168 dogs, according to troopers.

Erskine drove to Rich's property, finding more than 100 dogs, troopers said. Most were emaciated and dehydrated with little or no body fat. There were no food or water dishes in sight, troopers said.

Erskine obtained a search warrant to remove the dogs and returned the next day with trooper Shayne Calt.  Calt said he found the huskies thin and shivering in zero-degree temperatures. "The dogs had eaten a large part of the fresh snow around them and some did not have any fresh snow remaining, indicating that they had not been given water for an extended period of time."  "I observed several of the dogs eating their own feces," Calt wrote.

All told, at least 22 animals were dead, including two in the bed of a truck and two still chained to their kennels, the trooper said.
Rich, who said in court that he most recently worked as a "maintenance manager," told troopers he quit his job in October and was struggling to feed the animals.  Asked why he has so many animals, Rich told troopers he breeds and sells the dogs, according to the affidavit.

"Rich stated that he prioritizes the food by giving it to the puppies first, because he sells the puppies," Calt wrote.
The breeder told Palmer Magistrate Craig Condie that he was unemployed for about four months out of the past year and made about $24,000 in 2010.

He was being held at Mat-Su Pretrial Facility. Condie entered a not-guilty plea on Rich's behalf, with bail set at $5,000. The breeder will not be allowed to take care of any dogs as a condition of his release.

The huskies seized from his home aren't immediately available for adoption. Some are in such bad shape they'll likely have to be euthanized, according to the trooper report.

Stockdale, the borough animal control manager, said decisions about euthanizing and adopting the dogs are pending.

Update 1/14/11:
Long before scores of starving huskies were found at his home, Montana Creek dog breeder Frank J. Rich struggled with the size of his kennel. Dogs died that time too.

The breeder's troubles with the kennel, and his clashes with borough animal control, date back at least three years, according to interviews and public records.

In March of 2007, Rich was the subject of a loose-dog complaint, Stockdale said. He was ticketed for the violation the next month. More violations soon followed.

Rich was cited August 18th, 2007, for failure to register a kennel and failure to "provide a sanitary enclosure" for animals. He pleaded no contest and was fined a total of $175.  Within the week, Rich applied for a kennel permit, Stockdale said.

But a few days later, on August 26th, one of Rich's customers complained to the borough that the breeder sold a dog with parvovirus, the animal control manager said. No one could prove where the dog got the highly contagious disease, but the complaint apparently raised concerns about the kennel.

The next month Rich sought help from the borough to "put down" 24 of his dogs to reduce the size of his dog yard, Stockdale said.
Stockdale, who has been on the job as borough animal control manager for less than two weeks, said he didn't know the details of that case. The dogs were likely killed by injection at Rich's property, he said.

Animal control officials in October approved a kennel permit allowing no more than 127 dogs, Stockdale said.

That same month, the breeder was ticketed $200 for failure to meet kennel requirements, according to the state court records.

In 2010, the problems continued.  Customers say they bought thin, sick puppies from the breeder in the parking lot of the Wasilla Walmart even as the borough took months to process his latest application for a kennel license and failed to conduct a timely inspection that might have uncovered the poor kennel conditions earlier.

With his kennel license scheduled to expire by the end of the year, Rich applied in April 2010 for a new one, Stockdale said.  But processing the paperwork -- including records for each dog -- "took forever," Stockdale said.   While the shelter's small staff slowly finished the paperwork in late August, someone still needed to inspect Rich's property, checking for food and looking over the condition of the kennel, before the breeder could get his new permit.  That never happened.

Stockdale said it appears no inspection was ever scheduled. "They were, at that point, trying to get up there to do the actual inspection," he said. "With other priorities ... animal bites and things like that taking over, it just hadn't gotten done."

The animal control team was short-staffed, Stockdale said. There are four animal control officers serving the 88,000-person borough.
Asked if the abuse reported at Rich's kennel could have been discovered earlier with a timely inspection, Stockdale said maybe so.  "It may have. But at the same time, it shouldn't matter if we have an inspection," he said. "It's up to the owner to properly take care of these animals regardless of whether we've had an inspection or not."

Update 12/9/11:
Rich backed out of a plea agreement with prosecutors on December 7th in Palmer at a hearing before District Court Judge David Zwink.  “Obviously, the state is disappointed that this isn’t ending today, but obviously we can’t force Mr. Rich to change his plea,” assistant district attorney Lindsey Burton told the Frontiersman. “There is very little the state can say at this point.”

Judge Zwink set a pre-trial conference hearing for the matter on January 12th, very close to the one-year anniversary of Rich's arrest.

About two or three dozen protesters were in attendance outside the hearing and in the gallery, by the reporter's count. They stood outside as Rich entered the building, and many wore placards bearing photos of Rich's dogs and the slogan "I'm here for the dogs.

Currently as many as four dogs are still at the property. Animal control workers and volunteers couldn't capture them, Stockdale said.  "The ones that were loose, the neighbors are trying to catch them," he said.

Rich has plead not guilty to 50 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty.

A spokesman for the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility said Rich was released on bail after posting a $2,500 bond.

Denise Bostedt of Anchorage saw Rich's ads for husky puppies in the newspaper in July, she said. She agreed to meet the breeder at the parking lot of the Wasilla Walmart.

Rich told Bostedt he sold the males for $250 and the females for $300. She wanted the fluffiest male, she told him.  Rich arrived at the box store in a flatbed pickup. Bostedt talked him down to $200 for a black puppy with white paws that she named Ramses, she said.

The next morning she woke up to hear the dog whining, its stomach gurgling. The husky had intestinal parasites that called for a trip to the vet, Bostedt said.

Another woman who met Rich at the Wasilla Walmart said he wouldn't let her visit the kennel because he didn't want anyone to steal his dogs.  "He informed me that he had 160 dogs at his dog yard and was a breeder not to make good working dogs, but 'beautiful dogs to look at,' '' said Palmer resident Megan Christensen, who says she bought the female puppy a day before the raid on Rich's kennel.  She named it Sasha.

News of the arrest launched a wave of donations from dog lovers, with at least $14,000 collected in a Wells Fargo account created on behalf of the shelter, and another $4,000 gathered by Animal Food Warehouse and Pet Zoo stores in South central Alaska.  Students at the Alaska Job Corps Center in Palmer are building the huskies dog houses.

One of the dogs seized from Rich's home has been euthanized. The others are "gaining ounces" under care at the shelter, a borough spokeswoman said, but are not yet available for adoption.

For now, they are evidence in the case against Rich. Whether they can be given away at all will depend on what the court and the breeder do next, Stockdale said.  As long as the huskies are at the shelter, there's little room for adoptable dogs, he said. That could mean more euthanizations for other dogs.  "We're preparing the shelter for the worst-case scenario that this is going through the whole court system and (the huskies) may be here with appeals for the whole year," Stockdale said.

Update 9/8/14:
The Alaska Court of Appeals last week denied an appeal filed by Frank Rich, the Willow man who had about 170 neglected huskies seized by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough in 2011.

Authorities responding to a complaint in January 2011 found at least 19 dead dogs at Rich’s Montana Creek kennel. Many of the others were emaciated, dehydrated and without food or water. Twenty to 50 more were later euthanized for health or behavioral problems.
Taken to the Mat-Su animal shelter and distributed to rescue groups, the skin-and-bone survivors required intense socialization -- some through a program at the Hiland Mountain women's prison -- before they could go to new homes.

Palmer District Court Judge David Zwink in January 2012 sentenced Rich to six months in jail and demanded he pay $59,040 to cover the shelter’s costs for caring for all those dogs. Zwink also banned him from owning or caring for animals for a decade -- the length of his probation.

Rich filed an appeal a few months later. He wanted to pay his restitution using a share of the roughly $121,000 in donations that poured into the Mat-Su shelter after media reports publicized the state of his dogs and the suddenly overwhelmed shelter.  His probation was too long and the animal-owning ban unnecessarily harsh, Rich also claimed.

The answer came last week from the three-judge appeals court panel: No way.   The panel upheld Zwink’s sentence in an opinion handed down September 3rd.

“We find Rich’s argument unpersuasive,” the opinion reads, referring to Rich’s bid to dig into a share of the public’s donations to pay his court-ordered bills.

News of the unsuccessful appeal was met with celebration by Advocates for Dog and Puppy Wellness, a Wasilla nonprofit that works with the Mat-Su shelter and helped get 50 or 60 of the huskies and malamutes socialized enough that they could be adopted out.

Rich could have gotten help at the shelter but chose not to, board president Julie Johnson said Monday.  “We have a shelter for a reason and that’s when people are down on their luck. It’s like a shelter for people only it’s a shelter for animals,” Johnson said. “The resource was always there, always available and he didn’t even ask.”

About 10 volunteers came to the shelter several times a week for the “husky social hour” that Johnson -- a shelter volunteer and later on-call employee -- set up to get the fearful dogs used to people and to walking on a leash instead of spinning and frantically trying to escape.

It took eight months to adopt out the last Frank Rich dog.“You had to pick the right people because these dogs, they’re never going to be a normal dog,” she said. “They’ll learn to be affectionate, they’ll learn to walk on a leash but they’re always going to have a flight instinct in them.”

The borough veterinarian who treated the dogs in January 2011 testified they were dehydrated and starving, possibly without food for a week.  Many had various untreated medical conditions, including parasites; pressure sores from protruding bones repeatedly rubbing on the ground; testicular and mammary cancer with large tumors, some of which had erupted; and urinary tract infections.

Rich’s appeal of his restitution and probation made reference to a prior ruling on another animal cruelty case that began in 1999.  The Mahan case involved a Soldotna woman found with more than 130 sick animals on her property, including nine horses, two llamas, 10 cows, 18 sheep, a goat, 34 pigs, 21 dogs, 10 cats, 18 assorted birds and a number of rabbits, according to the appeals court opinion.

The court in that case ruled a defendant isn’t entitled to credit or a refund of donations for their victims. Rich, in his appeal, called that ruling a mistake and urged the court to overrule it.  “He argues he did not cause the Matanuska-Susitna Borough animal shelter any expenses or damages because it received donations covering all of its costs -- in fact, he argues, it was enriched by Rich’s crime because it took in more donations than it cost to care for his dogs,” the opinion states.

The appeals panel, however, said Rich failed to convince them they made the wrong decision and upheld that part of the sentence.

As for his probation, Rich argued he was entitled to less time as a first-time offender who served a stiff jail sentence and that other animal-cruelty offenders were allowed to keep some animals.

The court ruled the probationary period and the animal restriction were justified because Rich had a long history of neglect, had operated a commercial kennel and had allowed some of his dogs to die.

Zwink was correct when he found Rich’s conduct was a “worst offense” and that he had a hoarding problem so severe it was an addiction that hurt others, the September 3rd opinion states.  “The trial court found that Rich had hoarded dogs, could not care for them, and could not stop himself from accumulating more dogs. This finding is supported by the record and justifies the probation condition that he not own any animals.”


the Alaska Daily News Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman