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LOCKPORT – Barbara Hale Gonzalez, the Hartland woman who was charged with animal cruelty but was later given an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, is entitled to the return of the animals police seized from her in 2009, a judge ruled last week.

Two dogs and a horse confiscated when State Police obtained a search warrant on the complaint of Gonzalez’ veterinarian must be returned, Lockport City Judge William J. Watson ruled. A third dog died of cancer after being seized.

“She will be ecstatic,” said Gonzalez’ attorney, George V.C. Muscato, who handled the case with colleague Brian J. Hutchison. “We’ve been litigating this for three years.”

Muscato said they intend to pursue a damage claim against the SPCA of Niagara, veterinarian Jeanne Best and the animal adopters in a trial Watson has scheduled for July 8.

Kelly Winslow, whose husband Richard Winslow adopted one of the dogs, bitterly criticized Watson’s ruling.

“We are, of course, disgusted by this decision, that any judge would allow animals to go back to the woman who failed to feed, bathe and give any type of human attention” to them, Kelly Winslow said in an email. “Our biggest fear is, of course, that the same will continue and she will get away with it.”

The horse was living in a stall jammed with at least two feet of manure, and the dogs were underweight, with matted fur, and sleeping atop piles of hardened feces, Best told police at the time. Best and volunteers had cleaned out the horse manure earlier in 2009, but the conditions persisted, leading to the police being called.

Gonzalez’ attorney in the animal cruelty case, Matthew P. Pynn, told The Buffalo News that Gonzalez had serious health problems at the time.

Best’s attorney, Paul Hammond, told Watson in a Feb. 7 hearing that Gonzalez also was caring for her father, who had dementia at the time; he has since died.

An adjournment in contemplation of dismissal of the misdemeanor animal cruelty charges was proposed by Niagara County District Attorney Michael J. Violante and approved in Hartland Town Court in March 2010.

“The DA does not require the defendant to give up her right to have the animals returned to her,” Violante wrote on the plea slip.

Watson wrote in his ruling that Best “orchestrated the adoptions of the horse and three dogs through the authority of the SPCA.”

Best ended up with a horse, later given to Chestnut Rose Adventures, a not-for-profit riding organization in Akron. She also adopted the German shepherd that died.

Muscato said Gonzalez is seeking compensation for the dog that died, along with attorney fees and punitive damages.

Best had sought a lien against Gonzales for the costs of caring for the seized animals; Watson refused that.

Winslow, a friend of Best’s, adopted a Border collie, and an employee of Best’s, Stacey A. Bailey, has another German shepherd seized from Gonzalez.

“The record is clear that all the defendants … were aware of Gonzalez’ intent to have the animals returned to her,” Watson wrote. “The court rejects the arguments that the animals were abandoned. … Nothing in the record convinced this court the legal rights of ownership were terminated.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com