BOULDER — The owner of a Jefferson County dog kennel accused of animal cruelty testified Wednesday that dog breeding is his “life and passion” and he never abused his dogs.
Mike Chilinski took the stand for the first time on the third day of his trial in Boulder district court, where he faces 90 counts of cruelty to animals. He was arrested on Oct. 12, 2011, after a raid on his property south of Helena uncovered an alleged puppy mill operation by Chilinski.
More than 130 malamute dogs and more than 20 malamute puppies were seized and prosecutors allege most of the animals were malnourished, sick and injured.
Chilinski’s attorney Betty Carlson, a public defender for the state, is trying to convince the 12-member jury that her client never abused the animals and that he was just going through difficult economic times.
Chilinksi testified that he suffers from a back and foot injury that makes it difficult to maintain his large kennel, located on his property off of Malamute Way near Jefferson City. He also said he recently had to get on food stamps because he has difficulty making ends meet. However, he said he makes caring for his dogs a priority.
“They’re always first,” Chilinski said.
Jefferson County prosecutor Mathew Johnson argues that Chilinski hoarded these animals in filthy, feces-strewn kennels with limited food and dirty water.
An investigator with the Humane Society of the United States, Adam Parascandola, testified Wednesday that the many of the dogs taken from Chilinski’s kennel were in poor condition.
Members of the Humane Society and deputies were involved in seizing the dogs. Parascandola claimed on the stand that most of the dogs were extremely underweight and several had scars and injuries.
Other veterinarians who examined the seized dogs also testified Wednesday; they stated the dogs were malnourished. Helena veterinarian Jillian Dougherty told the jury that some of the adult malamutes weighed about 40 pounds, while the average weight of a healthy adult malamute is about 85 pounds.
Carlson called Susan Boyle to the stand in Chilinski’s defense. Boyle testified that she occasionally helped Chilinski maintain his dogs and kennels early in 2011. She said she never saw Chilinski hit, abuse or harm any of the dogs.
Boyle also said she never saw any dead dogs on the property.
Tuesday, a sheriff’s deputy testified that investigators found eight dead adult dogs and two dead puppies on the property during the raid.
Chilinski testified that he first got into breeding dogs in 1983. He said he was surprised by the allegations against him and said he thought it was a plot by the Humane Society to put him out of business. Chilinski described the Humane Society as an “animal rights group” that is against all dog breeders.
He claimed on the stand that the reason he left Utah, where he used to breed dogs, was due to harassment from animal rights groups.
“They’re quite infamous for trying to shut down breeders,” he said.
Chilinski added that he believes the Humane Society has a policy for unnecessarily euthanizing seized dogs and he doesn’t want it to get his animals.
“I find it ironic they call themselves a ‘humane society’ when they support the largest wholesale killing of animals,” he said.
Chilinski testified for about 20 minutes Wednesday before District Judge Loren Tucker adjourned the trial at 5 p.m. Chilinski is expected to continue his testimony Thursday at 9 a.m. The case is likely to go to the jury Wednesday.