BOULDER — A 12-member jury on Thursday convicted a Jefferson County kennel operator of seriously neglecting and abusing his dogs.
Mike Chilinski was found guilty of 91 counts of cruelty to animals. District Judge Loren Tucker remanded Chilinski to jail and ordered a pre-sentencing investigation.
The jury of six men and six women started deliberating just after 1 p.m. and came back with the verdict about 5:15 p.m.
The jury convicted Chilinski of neglecting dogs at his large rural kennel by not providing adequate food and water, shelter and medical attention. Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies and member of the U.S. Humane Society seized about 160 dogs from his property during a raid in October 2011.
Bob Sutherland, who is president of the Alaskan Malamute Assistance League, said Thursday he is happy with the jury’s verdict. Sutherland, of Anchorage, Alaska, and other members of the malamute rescue group witnessed the entire four-day trial.
“After seeing the condition of the dogs, we feel this is the right decision,” Sutherland said.
Now that Chilinski has been convicted, Sutherland said his group is going to start finding good homes for the seized dogs.
Calling to “end this breeding nightmare,” Jefferson County district attorney Mathew Johnson, during closing arguments Thursday, asked the jury to find Chilinski guilty. He told the jury that Chilinski’s property was a chaotic clutter of dilapidated kennels that were littered with feces and debris.
“The conditions of the breeding facility were appalling,” Johnson said.
He said many of the 139 adult malamutes and 23 of the puppies seized were starved and emaciated. Johnson noted that four veterinarians who testified during the four-day trial said most of the dogs were severely underweight, and had scars and parasites.
“They were in serious poor health from lack of adequate nutrition,” he said.
Chilinski’s attorney, Betty Carlson, a state public defender, told the jury her client is a good man who had just fallen on hard times.
“Mr. Chilinski isn’t a monster,” Carlson said in her closing. “He’s a man who had a little too little a little too late.”
Carlson said Chilinski cared for his dogs, but medical and financial burdens made it difficult. She said he did his best to take care of his dogs and never abused them. Carlson told the jury that heavy-handed tactics from the Humane Society made Chilinski’s kennels appear worse than they really were.
Carlson said the Humane Society has an “agenda” to put large breeders out of business by accusing them of abuse.
“They just sweep in and it’s, ‘my way or the highway,’” she said.
Carlson also accused the Humane Society of releasing videos and pictures from the Oct. 12, 2011, raid on Chilinski’s property to the media without authorization.
Chilinski testified earlier that day and said the animal breeders consider the Humane Society a “terrorist organization.”
Chilinski bred the dogs on his five-acre property off of Malamute Way near Jefferson City, south of Helena.
He further testified that he fed and watered his dogs every day. He also said he routinely cleaned up the feces that investigators said were scattered all over his property and in his home during their raid. Chilinski said he didn’t have time to clean the feces the morning of the raid, because investigators came so early.
Johnson said in his closing that this case wasn’t about the Humane Society’s alleged “agenda.” He said it’s about a man who seriously neglected his dogs and didn’t seek help to protect them when times became difficult.