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Publish Date: 4/12/2005

Woman accused of abusing dogs pleads guilty


FORT COLLINS — A woman who faced up to 148 1/2 years in jail and almost $500,000 worth of fines entered a plea agreement instead of going to trial Monday.

Now Catherine “Dodie” Cariaso, accused of abandoning 84 malnourished dogs at her rental home near Berthoud last summer, faces up to three years in jail, with a minimum one year of supervised probation.

“She was scared to death,” said Cariaso’s attorney, Norm Townsend.

Cariaso agreed to an Alford plea, which means she maintains her innocence, but will plead guilty in order to take advantage of the plea bargain.

Under the terms of the agreement, Cariaso will plead guilty to 15 counts of animal neglect and mistreatment and five counts of animal abandonment.

Her maximum punishment is three years of jail time and up to five years of probation for each count. Her minimum punishment is one year of supervised probation. She would not be able to breed dogs during the probation period.

Larimer County Court Judge Ronald Schultz will sentence her June 2. Before that, she must submit to a pre-sentence investigation, where she will undergo a mental health evaluation.

Susan Emrani, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, said Cariaso will not be punished with additional fines because probation and restitution expenses will cost enough. The court has not decided on a restitution amount — money Cariaso would have to pay for damages — yet, Emrani said.

Larimer Humane Society officials euthanized 54 of the Labrador retrievers found at Cariaso’s rental home last summer. They said they found dogs malnourished, dehydrated, not vaccinated, covered in their own waste and living in crates too small to allow them to stand up.

“It was pretty shocking,” Emrani said. “Difficult to stomach.”

Cariaso’s lawyer said Humane Society officials were too quick to destroy the dogs and took the event out of context.

“They’re looking at one day in this woman’s life,” Townsend said, adding that for Cariaso — a single woman with no children — her dogs were her life.

He said her life quickly spiraled out of control last June, when she was evicted from her Weld County home, ran out of money and was forced to move her animals to another home.

He said Weld County animal control officers saw the dogs at the end of June and told her to call the Humane Society if she couldn’t care for them anymore. But they didn’t tell her the dogs looked mistreated or neglected, he said.

“She clearly made some mistakes,” Townsend said. “She should have reduced the number of dogs.”

But she panicked and called the Humane Society when her new landlord told her he wanted the dogs out.

Then Cariaso disappeared for more than a week. During that time, Townsend said she had a “nervous breakdown.”

“She was afraid they would do exactly what they did,” he said.

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