WOLFEBORO, N.H. (AP) -- Two months after authorities said they rescued more than 80 sick dogs from a filthy mansion, Gov. Chris Sununu on Thursday revamped a state commission he hopes will help develop stronger animal cruelty laws.
Christina Fay of Wolfeboro was charged in June with two counts of animal cruelty after authorities said they found 84 Great Danes living in filth and suffering from sores, infections and other health problems.
Sununu, a Republican, joined officials from the Humane Society and the Wolfeboro Police Department on Thursday to sign an executive order expanding the duties of the 13-year-old Commission on the Humane Treatment of Animals. Sitting on a table in front of him was an eight-week-old puppy, born to one of Fay's dogs that had been surrendered to an animal shelter shortly before the other dogs were seized.
Sununu said he looks forward to working with the panel to strengthen animal cruelty laws.
"We're not just re-establishing it ... we're putting a little more oomph into it," he said of the commission.
"Whether it's dogs or cats or bears, we do have a responsibility," Sununu said. "It's part of who we are in the state of New Hampshire. It's part of our culture."
Lindsay Hamrick, state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said her organization will push for changing a current law that allows breeders who sell fewer than 50 puppies or 10 litters per year to go unregulated by the state.
"It's a really high bar and one that allows a lot of commercial breeders to fly under the radar. So we're going to be looking in 2018 to redefine what a commercial breeder is to ensure the state has that oversight over their operations," she said.
The group also supports legislation to allow judges to determine whether owners of animals seized in cruelty cases should be responsible for the cost of their care during an investigation. Currently, animal shelters or towns and cities bear those costs, though in the Wolfeboro case, the Humane Society is footing the bill, which likely will exceed $500,000, Hamrick said.
For the most part, the animals are doing well, she said.
"There were a slew of medical issues in this case, so it was a lot of different medical treatments, and trying to assess their recovery with a lot of different conditions at one time has been challenging, but they're all recovering from their ailments," she said.
Sununu credited Wolfeboro police not only for handling the criminal investigation but for taking a lead role in ensuring the dogs are being well cared for. Chief Dean Rondeau acknowledged that seeing the dogs "pulls at the heartstrings" but said the investigation is based on facts, not emotion.
"I'm very confident we will be victorious," he said.
Fay's trial is scheduled for October. She has pleaded not guilty. The town also has filed a zoning complaint against Fay's breeding kennel.