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Lincoln County seeks money from defendant in animal cruelty case to pay for dogs’ care

by SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
Hagadone News Network | July 10, 2024 12:00 AM

Lincoln County authorities are attempting to recoup costs it has incurred while taking care of 11 dogs that were taken from a man facing felony animal cruelty charges.

Steven David Aver, 63, was charged on Jan. 26 with 10 felony and one misdemeanor count of animal cruelty following an investigation of a home at 1652 Old U.S. Highway 2, located near the Idaho border.

Aver was in district court July 1 for his arraignment. The court proceeding also featured testimony about the costs of caring for the 11 dogs. According to court documents, the Tobacco Valley Animal Shelter has housed the canines since Jan. 22 at a cost of $110 per day. As of May 9, the dogs were in the shelter for 109 days. The county has paid $858 in vet bills while flea treatments cost $598.50.

According to court documents, Lincoln County Attorney Marcia Boris on June 6 filed a petition to have Aver post a renewable bond in an amount to cover the cost for the care of the 11 dogs for 30 days. It would require Aver to deposit the same amount of money every 30 days until the final disposition of the case.

Aver argued that the question of cost and care for the dogs shouldn’t be part of the criminal case, but rather a civil matter.

Aver’s hearing lasted nearly two hours as he argued various matters while also complimenting 5th Judicial District Judge Luke Berger on the appearance of his beard.

Berger took over the case after Lincoln County District Judge Matt Cuffe recused himself. Aver’s hearing on the cost of animal care wasn’t completed on July 1 and will continue on July 17.

Aver, who is representing himself in the animal cruelty case, said he loved Berger’s beard.

“You could be one of the ZZ Top guys," he said.

Berger replied that he was going to speak to Aver’s attorney, Ben Kolter, but Aver said that he was the one doing the talking and the one who’d filed motions in the case.

Berger and Aver bantered about the status of standby counsel.

“If Mr. Kolter comes off of standby status, he’s off that permanently,” Berger said.

Berger then read the counts against Aver and sought pleas from the defendant.

“I can’t enter pleas on a document that is incorrect,” Aver replied.

Berger then entered not guilty pleas on Aver's behalf.

In the court filing alleging animal cruelty, Andrew Smith, the county's animal control officer, reported that he and Sgt. Rebecca Guerra served a search warrant Nov. 16, 2023 at a home on Old Highway 2 North. He said they donned special suits and respirators while inside the home allegedly littered with dog feces and urine.

Smith reported finding five dogs in the front room of the house. One dog had extensive hair loss while others had moderate hair loss. Smith reported that one dog was trying to scratch its back on the door.

In a June 6 court filing seeking to have Aver pay for the dogs’ care and treatment, Smith described the condition of the dogs after they were examined by Dr. Chad Burt and as of April 1. 

Two dogs had hair loss and toenails that needed trimmed, including one with long, curling front nails. The vet could see fleas on the bodies of three other dogs. 

Smith said following exams of the dogs on April 1 by Dr. Fred Conkle, 10 dogs had better body composition scores while one was the same.

In the original charging document, Smith determined that due to the discomfort and pain the dogs were feeling from what he believed was either mange or a flea infestation that they should be removed immediately.

When the officers went back inside, Smith believed there was dog urine and feces on the floor of the front room and throughout the kitchen. The dogs appeared to have been walking through the urine and feces while tracking it throughout the area.

Smith reported when he continued his walk through the home he found four more dogs which had access to the outside through a dog door.

A check of the basement revealed a dog confined in a room used as an office space. The room allegedly had urine puddles and multiple piles of dog feces.

On Jan. 20, Burt, a veterinarian from Bonners Ferry, Idaho, came to the animal shelter where the dogs are being kept. His exam determined a serious flea infestation appeared to have caused the hair loss and skin irritation, according to Smith. Burt said all 11 dogs had fleas while four were neglected appropriate care.

A conviction for felony animal cruelty may result in a 2-year term in the Montana State Prison while a conviction for misdemeanor animal cruelty could result in a county jail term of one year.