Judge: 32 Great Danes found living in ‘squalor,’ couple denied custody
**UPDATE: On Nov. 1, 2019, Candice Wheat pleaded guilty to charges of animal cruelty. She was sentenced to 12 months in jail with 11 months and 26 days suspended. On Dec. 20, 2019 Richard Awlasewicz pleaded guilty to charges of animal cruelty. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail with 11 months and 16 days suspended. Charges of no licenses or rabies shots for the dogs were set aside for both defendants. Awlasewicz and Wheat are on probation for three years.
KING AND QUEEN COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - A King and Queen judge rules a St. Stephen Church couple will not get back their 32 Great Danes that were seized from their home in August.
A General District Judge stated Friday, Richard Awlasewicz, 52, and Candice Wheat, 39, let the 20 adult dogs and 12 puppies live in “squalor” at their home on Owens Mill Road.
The King and Queen County Sheriff’s Department originally responded to the property for a distinct dog odor coming from the home. According to the Sheriff’s Department, the couple did not allow deputies inside, but Wheat said they had 20 dogs.
“On Aug. 26 a follow up visit to the residence was made by deputies,” the Sheriff’s Department stated. “Awlasewicz and Wheat denied access to the residence without a search warrant. [The couple] brought eight dogs out to be examined by the deputies. The condition of the dogs shown were not satisfactory to the deputies. The deputies left and obtained a search warrant for the residence.”
During that search on Aug. 27, deputies seized 32 Great Danes that were on the property in conditions that ranged from “poor to near death.”
“Five of the dogs were discovered barricaded inside a small, dilapidated camper,” the sheriff’s office posted on Facebook. “Both the camper and the dogs were covered in feces and urine. There was no food or water in the camper. The temperature inside the camper was extreme and without ventilation.”
“He’s been a good neighbor,” said neighbor Kimberly Smith. “I didn’t know it was going on.”
Smith lives near Awlasewicz’s and Wheat’s home where the 32 dogs and puppies were seized. She recalled a large law enforcement presence that day.
“I remember that day because they were over there that morning and they stayed there until that night,” Smith said. “I knew something was going on, and I saw Cindy was walking back and forth carrying a dog, crying."
“I saw a lot of sheriff’s cars over there but didn’t know what was going on at the time,” another neighbor said. “There were a lot of animal control trucks.”
During Friday’s seizure hearing, a responding deputy testified to the conditions at the home and the trailer, citing rotten floorboards, no ventilation in the camper and that his camera “fogged up” due to the “extreme” heat from inside the trailer.
Awlasewicz, who represented himself in the civil hearing, refuted claims of feces scattered across the property and requested the deputy to circle the piles on a photograph.
Testimony was also heard from Regional Animal Shelter manager Lauri Betts and Veterinarian Kathleen Slayman, who both analyzed the group of dogs when they were brought to the shelter.
Betts testified only three of the adult dogs had “ideal” body scores when they were admitted at the shelter, while the rest, excluding the puppies, were below average.
Slayman supported Betts’ findings, testifying a “vast majority” of the dogs were emaciated, with five having noticeable health issues. At a recent check-in, Slayman said most of the issues those five dogs faced had been treated thanks to medication and recovery efforts by the shelter.
“On my Sept. 18 visit they were doing much much better,” Slayman said. “Most had improved by a body score of two... the puppies were fine."
Betts said almost all of the dogs were malnourished and had intestinal parasites.
"I really was surprised, because Rick was always going to get dog food,” a neighbor said. “I knew he had several dogs, but I didn't know it was that many."
"Oh my god! We didn’t see these ones,” Smith added after seeing photos of the dogs. “We always only saw two of his dogs.”
On Sept. 10, NBC12 was able to view six of the dogs brought to the shelter. In two weeks, those dogs had gained anywhere from 14-30 pounds.
|DOG||WEIGHT WHEN RECEIVED||WEIGHT 09/10|
|19||98.7 lbs||113.2 lbs|
|2||97.4 lbs||111 lbs|
|25||104 lbs||133 lbs|
|24||81.2 lbs||96.6 lbs|
|31||74.1 lbs||90.7 lbs|
|30||80.9 lbs||99.2 lbs|
However, Betts said several of them still needed to gain weight. For instance, when “Dog 25” was brought in he had a body score of -1; that scale runs from 1-9. “Dog 30” had a score of 1.
A handful of the Great Danes also experience “stranger danger”, which is where dogs may cower or run away when seeing new faces. There are also a handful of dogs that are deaf, likely due to genetics.
During Friday’s hearing, King and Queen County Commonwealth Attorney Charles Atkins argued the dogs were “treated horribly” and urged the judge to uphold the seizure and prohibit the couple from owning dogs in the future.
Wheat’s attorney, Terry Osborne, argued the court should not seize the dogs which were deemed okay, and that the couple should be allowed custody of the two dogs they claim are service animals.
The judge ruled the dogs did not receive adequate care, and the seizure was “proper”. He also ordered the couple pay $8,320 in restitution for the care that’s been given to the dogs since they were seized.
“The judge ruled that all the dogs will be immediately turned over to the Sheriff’s Office,” a statement from the Sheriff’s Department said. “The judge also ordered that Awlasewicz and Wheat will no longer be allowed to own companion animals.”
“I’m very pleased with the outcome my department has done in handling the case to bring before the court," said Sheriff John Charboneau.
The couple agreed to sign over ownership of 30 of the dogs to the Sheriff’s Office immediately after court.
“Awlasewicz and Wheat will be appealing two of the dogs to Circuit Court,” a statement said. “The seizure appeal has yet to be set.”
In the meantime, the 30 dogs that were signed over will be placed in an undisclosed rescue facility to received additional treatment before the next step in their future.
“All 30 of the dogs are already gone (adopted)," Charbondeau said. “Like I said, I’m very proud of the outcome and what my department has done... Thanks to the immediate veterinary care and the outstanding attention and care the dogs are receiving from the staff at the King William Regional Animal Shelter, it is apparent that most of the dogs’ conditions are improving daily.”
The shelter is closed to the public as they deal with the large rescue effort, but say the community can donate the following items:
- Canned pumpkin, no seasoning
- Laundry detergent
- Hand towels
Any other people interested in helping can email firstname.lastname@example.org, according to the sheriff’s office. They’re urging people not to call the shelter or the sheriff’s office with inquiries.
Awlasewicz and Wheat both face misdemeanor charges for no county licenses (x 13), and no rabies vaccine (x 19).
The criminal cases are scheduled for a preliminary hearing Nov. 1.
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