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Video: Inside the Wolfeboro dog 'house of horrors'

New Hampshire Sunday News

June 25. 2017 2:49AM
The Humane Society of the United States worked with the Wolfeboro Police Department to rescue Great Danes from Christina Fay's Wolfeboro property on Friday, June 16, 2017. (Meredith Lee/The HSUS)

Christina Fay wasn't running a puppy mill. In truth, she couldn't bear to part with any of the Great Danes that lived in packs inside her Wolfeboro mansion.

That's according to a Bartlett woman who was hired last month to care for Fay's dogs - and who helped investigators document the "appalling" conditions inside her home.

Marilyn Kelly, who now works for the Conway Area Humane Society, also managed to convince Fay to surrender nine of her dogs so that they could be cared for at that shelter.

That was before authorities rescued 84 Great Danes after a raid at Fay's property on June 16. Fay, who is 59, was charged with two counts of cruelty to animals and released on $10,000 personal recognizance bail.

Kelly worked for Fay for about a month, answering an ad for kennel help. Fay, she said, was "completely embarrassed" by the condition of her home and told Kelly she was hiring more help to take care of her dogs.

What Kelly found when she arrived at the gated mansion her first day of work was "appalling," she said. "Feces smeared on the walls. Urine pooled on the floor."

"The dogs were slipping and sliding in their feces, jumping all over you. You were covered in feces within 10 minutes of being in that house," she said.

The dogs lived in packs in different rooms of the house, but there was no water in sight. "The dogs were all let out for a half-hour tops, one time a day, and that's when they got water," she said.

The house was huge, she said, "but every room was filled with dogs. There was no room for anything else."

There wasn't even any furniture, just dog kennels in every room, she said. In one room, the walls were spattered with blood from the dogs wagging their tails inside their too-small crates.

It's a condition called "happy tail," and it's not uncommon even for healthy dogs with whip-like tails to injure them, Kelly said. But the Danes' injuries were caused by the conditions in which they lived, she said.

"It really was a house of horrors," said Virginia Moore, executive director of the Conway Area Humane Society.

Why didn't Kelly leave at once?

"I couldn't, because I needed to save them," she said. "I needed to do what I could to make it better for them."

She spent every day scrubbing the floors, walls and woodwork. "It was a never-ending battle," she said. She made sure the dogs had water, and she gave them plenty of affection.

That first week, she said, she also confronted Fay: "More than half of these dogs need to leave."

She said the woman knew things had gotten out of control. "I know I need to find homes for some of them," she said Fay told her. "I just can't let them go. I love them all."

"This isn't love," Kelly replied. "They're not living the lives they should be living."

How could things have gotten to this point?

The New York Times featured the wedding in 1987 when Maria Christina "Tina" Patterson married Patrick Fay at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan. Both came from prominent families.

Kelly said Fay told her she had adopted six children and used to raise horses.

She's not sure how someone who came from such wealth could end up in such a terrible mess. She thinks Fay "snapped after her divorce."

That's when Fay decided she could have all the dogs she wanted, Kelly said. "Her husband wouldn't let her have more than one or two at a time."

"She basically said ... I will have as many dogs as I want now. This is my life."

Fay started with 15 Great Danes and soon became an animal "hoarder," Kelly said. "She just said she lost control and started collecting and can't stop collecting - and won't stop collecting."

Fay's property was fenced, and Kelly told her the dogs needed to spend time outside. But she said Fay was worried about the neighbors; Wolfeboro police had responded to noise complaints several times, according to a police affidavit.

Since she was offering her assistance at the residence, Kelly lived on-site in a separate building; she said the din of the dogs' constant barking made it impossible to sleep. "I cannot imagine the sound echoing across that lake to neighbors," she said. "It's an unbelievable sound to hear them all going at once."

But the dogs were sweet-natured and affectionate, Kelly said. "They would jump up on you. They wanted hugs; they wanted kisses. They'd lean into you so much, it would almost knock you down."

Kelly said she "naively" thought she could help. Even as she worked to clean up the house, she contacted friends at the Conway Area Humane Society and told them about the conditions there. She took photographs, sharing them with investigators working on the cruelty case.

Kelly also decided to try to rescue some of the dogs herself. The first was a young female named Spooks who was getting picked on in her "group." Kelly convinced Fay to surrender the dog so Kelly could bring it to the Conway shelter.

"By week two, I fully comprehended the fact that she was never going to understand and she wasn't going to change and nothing was going to change for the dogs," she said. "At that point it was: save as many as I can before she finds out what I'm doing."

In the end, Kelly convinced Fay to give up nine dogs, which are now getting veterinary care and affection at the Conway shelter. They will be the first Wolfeboro dogs available for adoption once their health improves.

The dogs removed from Fay's home are considered evidence in the cruelty case and won't be available for adoption until that case is resolved. They are being cared for by staff and volunteers from the Humane Society of the United States at an emergency shelter HSUS set up at an undisclosed location.

HSUS provided the following footage of the rescue.

The Wolfeboro house, where Fay's adult son also lived, has been declared unfit for human habitation.

Kelly said she contacted Fay's veterinarian to report the conditions the dogs were living in, and told some of the woman's friends that things were spiraling out of control. But word got back to Fay, and after a confrontation, Kelly left the job and property for good about three weeks ago.

Bartlett veterinarian Kate Battenfelder last week said in a statement that she started providing care for Fay's dogs in January of 2016. But she said no one from her True North Veterinary Hospital had ever been to the house and she didn't know how bad conditions were.

"We regret not knowing what was happening out of sight, and would have taken action if we were aware," she said. "The safety and wellness of the animals in our community is our reason for being a part of the veterinary field, and protecting them is our top priority."

Battenfelder said Fay had another veterinarian who went to her property once a month "for routine care." And she said, "In our past interactions, she appeared to have both the funding and capacity to care for a large number of dogs."

What happened inside that house "must have been a recent turn of events," Battenfelder said, "and we are heartbroken that things deteriorated to that level."

Does Kelly think Fay loves her dogs? "In her own way, yes," she said.

Fay slept with 10 of the dogs on her bed, she said. Her favorite, Mumba, was devoted to her.

"She would jump gates, fences, anything, just to be with Tina," she said. "I'm sure it's breaking her heart not to be with her. That bothers me."

A website for Fay's kennel, De La Sang Monde Great Danes, featured beautiful portraits of happy, healthy dogs and puppies. The dogs at one time were selling for more than $2,000, and favorable comments were posted, praising their dispositions and beauty.

Those pages were erased after Fay's arrest.

Kelly said she never saw Fay sell a dog. A litter of 10 puppies was born soon after she started working there; only four survived. And right before she left, a second litter of 10 puppies was born.

Fay planned to keep them all, she said. "In the time I was there, there was not one I'm aware of that she sold."

The day of the raid, nine puppies were recovered from True North Veterinary Hospital, apparently the surviving puppies from that recent litter, according to those involved in the rescue. Battenfelder did not respond to an email asking how they came to be there.

Kelly said she believes Fay needs professional help. "She does have a heart of gold, but there is something not right in her mind that she thinks this is OK and she thinks she is doing the best for these dogs.

"And she thought she was."

So what would justice look like in this case?

"That she gets the therapy and help she needs, and hopefully spends a lot of time in jail," Kelly said. "The way these animals lived is abhorrent."

One of the nine dogs that Kelly convinced Fay to surrender, all of which Kelly then brought to the Conway shelter, gave birth to three puppies Friday by cesarean section. Kelly said the pups, all males, are "doing fantastic."

"They're all feeding and doing well," she said.

For those involved in saving the Wolfeboro Great Danes, these little ones feel like a sign of hope.

"The fact that they were born here instead of in that hell hole makes me feel pretty good," Moore said.

"They get to be happy and raised the right way," said Kelly. "They get to start their lives the way everybody else should have. They will never know the horrors in which their mother lived."

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