This story came to light last week when the owners of a Shih Tzu found a picture of their missing dog on an internet pet site and an investigation led the police to a house when more than 50 dog were being kept in deplorable conditions.
Police arrested Bernacchi, 44, and girlfriend Karen Schleich, 45, on charges of animal cruelty. Schleich also was charged with one count of possession of stolen property.
Beauchesne was charged with grand larceny. All three were arraigned Thursday, and each pleaded not guilty.
Bernacchi was held on $27,000 cash or $54,000 bond. Schleich was held on $30,500 cash or $61,000 bond. Beauchesne was released on her own recognizance.
[On] Thursday, a Suffolk official said Bernacchi’s rescue was nothing but a “hellhole” where 54 dogs lived, without any food or water, in a three-bedroom home covered in feces and urine. Police believe Bernacchi and two colleagues, rather than running a shelter, were operating a for-profit enterprise that involved collecting dogs “by any means they could” — even stealing them off the street.
Twelve of the dogs have microchips embedded under their skin to identify them, and one has a rabies tag — signs that they once had homes. Police were running the chips through scanners Thursday to determine if they could locate their rightful owners.
“It was an absolute travesty,” County Executive Steve Levy said as animal care workers stood nearby, holding some of the dogs. Chief Roy Gross of the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said the dogs would be placed in area shelters, a process that began Thursday.
When officers entered the home, the stench was so pungent that they had to wear breathing apparatuses, Gross said. The dogs were everywhere; one was even hiding in the frame of a couch, Gross said.
“There was no way to walk without stepping in feces,” he said. “It was just a hellhole.”
Bernacchi had been operating his so-called rescue operation through a Web site, LuckyFund.org. On the site are pictures of sickly dogs they supposedly helped bring back to health and his own story about tending to monkeys, squirrels, birds and other animals with his mother as a child and then witnessing the hit-and-run that nearly left a dog dead.
“I pulled over, picked up the dog, and took it to the veterinarian,” he writes on his page. “Both his front legs were broken and he needed surgery.”
He named the dog “Lucky.”
On the Web site, Bernacchi describes how Suffolk Life readers started sending him checks. He registered a not-for-profit organization and started taking in other dogs in need. The Web site shows pictures of a dog with a severe hernia named Romeo, a pit bull with a bad leg named Riddick, and one dog that looks like a beagle who was nearly starved to death and was called Lucy.
“These are just a few of the many stories on how your donations help save the lives of these wonderful loving animals,” he writes on the page.
Gross, of the Suffolk SPCA, said the dog named “Lucky” was sent to the North Shore Animal League. “All the dogs will be lucky because all these dogs are getting adopted out,” he said. (Newsday.com)