After over a year of being evidence in a district court trial, Brick, Paddy, Duncan, Molly, Tabitha, Nalah and 146 other malamutes have been released to the Lewis and Clark Humane Society for adoption.
Wednesday, their previous owner, Mike Chilinski, was sentenced to 30 years in the custody of the Montana Department of Corrections, with 25 years suspended ,for over 90 counts of animal cruelty. Chilinski, 52, is barred from owning another animal for 30 years.
Gina Wiest, executive director of the Lewis and Clark Humane Society, said she is pleased with the result of the trial.
“In my 15 years working in animal welfare, I’ve never seen such a horrendous case, and I will never forget the day we rescued those dogs and the condition they were in. The system worked; the dogs had their day in court and were vindicated,” she said. “I hope it sets a precedent.”
“I am very pleased with the sentence,” said Jefferson County Attorney Matthew Johnson, who prosecuted the case. “I am likewise humbly grateful for the assistance of the Lewis and Clark Humane Society and The Humane Society of the United States.”
Wiest stressed that the severity of the sentence was due in part to the role The Humane Society of the United States played in the legal proceedings, particularly Adam Parascandola, director of animal cruelty response, who testified during the trial. The Humane Society was requested by law enforcement to assist with the seizure, along with the Lewis and Clark Humane Society, and contributed $377,000 for care of the dogs.
A hearing to determine restitution costs is scheduled for Jan. 2. Johnson said restitution costs could be more than $500,000. Chilinski also waits sentencing in April in federal court for growing marijuana on his property.
Since 161 of the dogs were seized from Chilinski’s property in Jefferson County in October 2011, the Lewis and Clark Humane Society has housed, fed and cared for the animals, and watched as 108 were born and as 56 puppies died due to unhealthy mothers and other issues. Adult dogs also died due to health issues related to the conditions.
Until Chilinski received his sentence, the shelter was unable to offer the animals to permanent homes, or spay or neuter them. Wiest said this is the first thing the shelter will arrange. As soon as arrangements are finalized, the malamutes will be dispersed to American Malamute Assistance League locations and associates around the U.S. About 30 dogs are scheduled to go to Virginia, she said. Others are slated for Washington, California and other places, where they will be offered for adoption. She said 35 to 40 will stay in Helena; some are already scheduled to be adopted by the foster families that have care for them.
For Owen Morgan, an employee of Lewis and Clark Humane Society, the dogs’ departures will be bittersweet. Morgan, who was hired by the shelter shortly before the seizure in 2011, has cared for the animals along with other employees, for nearly his entire employment there. He said he is happy they are going to something better, but he will miss them.
Wiest shared his sentiment, and pointed out the progress the dogs have made since being in their care. She said that while the animals have experienced a deplorable situation, their tails point upward as soon as they walk through the door with the prospect of a walk.
For information about adopting animals at the Lewis and Clark Humane Society, visit their website at www.mtlchs.org or call 442-1660.