BOULDER — Mike Chilinski, the Jefferson City man convicted of more than 90 counts of animal cruelty related to his malamute breeding operation, will be under state supervision and banned from owning any animals until he is in his 80s, according to a sentence handed down Wednesday.
District Judge Loren Tucker followed the recommendation of the prosecutor in the case and sentenced Chilinski to 30 years in the custody of the Montana Department of Corrections, with 25 years suspended.
Chilinski, 52, is also scheduled in April for sentencing in federal court for growing marijuana, and faces a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence in that case.
Tucker and a probation officer noted Chilinski’s failure to fully accept responsibility for his actions, which led to the seizure of 161 dogs from his property.
A probation officer and witnesses involved in the rescue of the malamutes said some dogs were emaciated, nearly all were malnourished, many suffered disease, and they lived amid large amounts of feces. Rescue workers reported an “eerie quiet” when they approached his kennels.
Chilinski, speaking in orange jailhouse attire just before the sentence was pronounced, acknowledged that many dogs were undernourished much more than he realized at the time, but claimed he watered them twice a day and insisted he never abused them.
He maintained — as he did when pleading guilty to the drug charges in federal court in October — that several of his constitutional rights were violated.
He said the Lewis and Clark Humane Society and the Humane Society of the United States had no authority to exercise the “police powers” they used in entering his property and taking the dogs.
He said photographs of dogs taken by the groups were not congruent with the reality of the dog’s conditions, and that outside parties should not have had such a role in the legal process.
“The multimillion-dollar corporation of the HSUS and their animal-rights agenda virtually made a mockery” of the legal system, he said.
Of the 161 dogs rescued in October 2011, several died, Lewis and Clark Humane Society Executive Director Gina Wiest said. Several puppies were born and some dogs were adopted out, but most were kept in the custody of animal advocates pending the trial's outcome.
The dogs — now 176 of them — have been kept at three different locations around Helena, and are now at the former site of the Montana State Nursery on Highway 12 west of Helena.
Tucker ordered the dogs forfeited to Jefferson County, which plans to find homes for them through groups including the Alaska Malamute Assistance League.
Jefferson County Attorney Mathew Johnson said restitution costs, mainly related to keeping the dogs, could amount to more than $500,000. HSUS contributed more than $377,000 to the effort, according to a report described in court.
A hearing on the exact restitution amount will come later. Chilinski’s lawyer, Betty Carlson, said she had not seen some of the restitution documents until just before the hearing.
Wiest testified that the case had been an ordeal for Humane Society staff and volunteers, many of whom watched the hearing in court.
“From an emotional standpoint, I’d like to have the book thrown at him,” Wiest said.
She said the group has been “hanging on by our fingernails” and wants to move on.
“Not only was this a huge undertaking financially and for staffing, but there was a huge emotional component that went with this,” she said. “Some died. Puppies, because their mothers were so malnourished, died. For each and every person who has handled those dogs on a daily basis, it’s been an emotional roller coaster from the beginning.”
Adam Parascandola, the director of animal cruelty response for the HSUS, has participated in more than 100 rescues nationwide, including the Chilinski case.
“The degree of suffering was quite large in this case,” he testified.
He recommended jail time for Chilinski and noted his unwillingness to take responsibility — as shown by the fact that he kept breeding puppies even when he knew he was losing his ability to control the growing operation due to health and financial reasons.
If the Department of Corrections sends Chilinski to prison during the five-year portion of the sentence that is not suspended, Chilinski will be eligible for parole in as little as 15 months. If Chilinski is sentenced to federal prison by then, the Montana Board of Parole and Pardons is likely to parole him so he can begin serving the federal sentence, a probation officer said.
Chilinski said his dogs were his life, and his ability to earn a living by breeding them was already ruined with the revocation of his American Kennel Club certification.
He faces a fine to the federal government of $70,000, or forfeiture of his property if he cannot come up with the money.
His dream of retiring to a life as a dog show judge is gone, he said.
He said he was once a nationally respected breeder.
“Now, I’m a pariah,” he said.
Tucker said Chilinski showed little sign of changing his ways and noted that all the dogs were completely dependent on him.
“In essence, each one of those animals you chose to keep was in bondage to you and was (in) no better position than a slave,” he said.