SARANAC LAKE - The Tri-Lakes Humane Society has found homes for 12 of the 17 dogs that were seized from a McClelland Street home after a Feb. 26 domestic dispute that culminated with a husband allegedly shooting his wife in the hand with a shotgun.
Authorities are still weighing whether to pursue charges against the couple for running what they believe was an illegal puppy mill, or dog breeding operation, in the house. Police and prosecutors are also considering filing child endangerment charges against the couple, who had three young children living in what they've described as a squalid home that was covered with dog feces.
Meanwhile, the man who police say pulled the trigger during the dispute - 35-year-old Oleg Tchernytchenko - is still in the Franklin County Jail in Malone as prosecutors talk to his lawyer about resolving the case through a plea agreement.
Lena Bombard of the Tri-Lakes Humane Society pets Unca, a year-and-a-half old Akita, outside the shelter in Saranac Lake Wednesday. The dog is one of 17 that were seized from a home on McClelland Street following a shooting at the house on Feb. 26.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"It hasn't gone to grand jury yet. We still have a little bit of time," Franklin County Assistant District Attorney David Hayes said Wednesday. "Peter Dumas has been retained (by Tchernytchenko) on the case, so he'll probably talk to me or (District Attorney) Derek (Champagne) on it and we'll decide where to go from there. If no plea agreement is reached, it will absolutely go to grand jury."
The dispute took place in the living room of the home around 1:50 a.m. Police have said Tchernytchenko and his wife were arguing when he pointed a 12-gauge Mossberg shotgun at her. She tried to push it away, but the shotgun fired, and a slug struck her right hand, severing her index finger.
In a statement to police, Tchernytchenko said the dispute started after he saw an eight-year-old text message on his wife's phone from her old boyfriend that reportedly said, "I love you." Tchernytchenko later told police he was sorry for and upset over what happened. In a separate statement, the woman told police it was an accident.
Tchernytchenko was charged with first-degree assault, a class B felony, and three counts of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor. He has since pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The couple's three children, between 5 months and 4 years of age, were in the living room at the time of the shooting - sleeping, Tchernytchenko said. Police have said it was the only habitable room in the house. The children were taken into custody by child protective services.
Hayes said the prosecution hasn't decided yet whether to file additional charges of endangering the welfare of a child because of the conditions the children were living in.
"Those are still possible," said village police Chief Bruce Nason. "We're kind of waiting to see what's going to happen, if it's going to be presented to grand jury. We have enough to make those charges."
While the confidentiality of child protective services prevented the Enterprise from learning more about the status of the three children, more is known about what happened to the 17 dogs that were removed from the home by the village's dog control officer, Lena Bombard of the Tri-Lakes Humane Society. Bombard told the Enterprise Wednesday that 12 of the dogs were Yorkshire terriers, or Yorkies, while the other five were Akitas.
"The Akitas weren't in too poor a condition; they were just living in poor conditions," Bombard said. "The Yorkies were thin, but they were forced to live in different rooms of the house without having access to the outside. The conditions where the animals were being kept were definitely not what should be for an animal."
The dogs were given food and water, cleaned up and evaluated by Dr. Allison Flanigan of the Lake Placid Animal Hospital. One of the Akitas was deemed dangerous and was euthanized, Bombard said. The other 16 dogs were all spayed and neutered. The shelter has since found homes for all of the Yorkies and is getting the remaining four Akitas ready for adoption.
"They're nice dogs, and we've done a lot of work with them: socializing them and working on their leash manners and housebreaking them," Bombard said. "They need experienced owners, people that have dealt with an Akita or German Sheperd-type dog."
Bombard said there's no doubt the couple was running a dog breeding operation, but it hasn't been determined if they were breeding enough animals to have required a license. Under state Agriculture and Markets law, a breeder who sells more than 25 animals per year must have a license and undergo annual inspections.
"In this case it was not easy to prove," Bombard said. "Since we got involved, we got phone calls here from people reporting they had purchased puppies from them in the past. We went online and found a bunch of Web listings where they were listing Yorkie and Akita puppies for sale. We knew they were breeding, but we never could say how many in a year."
Nason said his department is still reviewing potential charges surrounding the dog breeding operation.
"We haven't stopped with it," he said. "Once we get to the point where we think we have all the information, then we'll see if we have enough for further charges."
Bombard said people donated money and roughly 2,000 pounds of food to the shelter after hearing about the case. She said the dogs still living at the shelter are doing well.
"They love the routines here," she said. "They get to play outside. They go for walks. They get toys. They're all hoarding toys in their kennels. They didn't know what tennis balls or toys were, really. Everything is new to them. It's like a fresh start."
Friends of the woman who was shot have since been helping to clean up the McClelland Street home. They've also been defending her in letters to the editor of the Enterprise.
"I want everyone to know that she is a good mother," wrote Shirley Hosler in a letter published last week. "Her children are always clean. We all love her, and she is a good friend. Please stop judging her and be her friend."
Kim Boyer of Vermontville said the situation in the home was the result of physical and mental abuse the woman had endured.
"An abused man or woman doesn't always leave their abuser for many reasons such as fear, dependency, hope that they can change, and many more reasons that we, who aren't abused, will never know how it feels," Boyer wrote. "I personally know her, and she was always a good mother and kept her children clean. Unfortunately, she gave up her home. This is very overwhelming for those who have to deal with abusive situations, especially when you have a young child who is brain damaged and cries all the time, as well as taking care of two more young children with no help from her husband."
Boyer said the conditions in the house weren't as bad as police have said, that the "animal droppings were in two rooms where the animals were, not through out the whole house."