The owner of a white, female Siberian Husky is being sued for alleged animal abuse in a civil case that was heard Monday in Westchester County Court.
Animal advocate Deborah Pangle, who until recently was a longtime Briarcliff Manor resident, is suing for the surrender of the dog from its owners, the Piscopiello family of Ossining.
Pangle alleged that the Husky, named Luna, has been tethered outside for over a decade regardless of weather conditions.
The family, which has owned Luna for 11 years, countered that the dog has been well cared for.
Monday’s five-hour hearing produced testimony from animal rescue experts, Ossining Police Chief Kevin Sylvester and residents who for about seven years have observed Luna at various times of day.
Photos and videos documenting the dog’s circumstances were entered as evidence by Pangle’s lawyer, Matthew Albert, a Buffalo-based animal rights attorney. Westchester-based attorney Russell Smith defended the Piscopiellos.
Pangle, who now lives in Cape May, N.J., is the founder of the animal advocacy group The Cat Squad. She raised about $20,000 for legal fees and expenses for the litigation.
Complaints about Luna started in 2017 when a resident living near the Piscopiellos contacted Pangle after seeing the dog tethered outside all the time.
“I observed Luna from the street and she was chained to a dog house on the side of the house,” Pangle testified. “She was always tethered even in extreme weather conditions.”
Luna’s owner, Marco Piscopiello, said he purchased the dog from a puppy mill in 2011, but the puppy resisted crate training and didn’t want to be inside.
“We thought it best for her to be outside and we tethered her to a mountain climbing device, not a chain,” he said.
Piscopiello said keeping the dog inside made her bark continuously and neighbors complained, but when tethered outside Luna seemed content. The family leaves the garage door open two feet for Luna to freely enter and exit, he said.
According to Piscopiello, the garage has a fan and is cool inside during the summer. In the winter the nearby boiler keeps the space warm. There is a raised bed for Luna to sleep in, and when the family isn’t home, Luna is left in the garage with the door closed.
Lorraine Healy, founder of Husky House, a Siberian Husky rescue organization, testified that Huskies are bred to be part of a pack and isolating them can cause suffering.
“A Husky needs tons of exercise and roughhousing with people and other dogs,” Healy said.
Piscopiello said Luna regularly socializes and plays with dogs owned by other family members.
Pangle said she contacted Ernest Lungaro, director of the Humane Law Enforcement Unit at the SPCA Westchester in Briarcliff Manor.
“The SPCA did nothing,” Pangle said. “I tried to work with the Piscopiellos through the police, but they did nothing to help Luna.”
Sylvester, who has been chief since 2016, testified that Pangle e-mailed and called the police numerous times. Officers specializing in animal control were dispatched to check on Luna.
“They found the dog well cared for. From the body camera footage there was no evidence of abuse,” Sylvester said. “There was no cause to take action.”
Albert asked Sylvester if he knew how long Luna was tethered on a daily basis and if he was familiar with the local tethering law.
“We (the police) can’t sit outside the house to see if a dog is tethered,” he responded, adding that he wasn’t familiar with the details of the tethering law. “That’s what the police staff of animal control officers are for.”
Ossining passed an ordinance in 2018, which states a dog may be tethered outside for a maximum of 12 hours during any 24-hour period. Violating the law is punishable by a fine of up to $250.
Sylvester said he also contacted Lungaro who observed Luna in the company of a police officer.
“Lungaro said the dog didn’t require anything and nothing needed to be done,” he said.
Testimony was given by Piscopiello’s mother, Lucy, who said the dog has always received the required vaccinations and routine checkups with a local veterinarian and is in good health.
Maria Varrone, who has been involved with animal rescue and would pass Luna on her way to and from work, said she took pictures of the Husky in different weather conditions at different times of day.
“The dog was always outside, even this past summer when it was well over 85 degrees,” Varrone said.
Pangle is also suing for suffering distress, anxiety and depression since being involved with helping Luna.
“I lived 15 minutes from Luna, and years of not being able to help her left me feeling overwhelmed,” she said.
If Pangle wins the case she has arranged for Luna to live with an animal advocate in Connecticut, where the dog would be housed inside with other pets.
At the end of the hearing, both attorneys briefly summed up their arguments.
“That the Piscopiellos should forfeit Luna is insane,” Smith said. “It’s clear, unequivocally, this family loves Luna and the allegations are unfounded.”
Albert said although the dog has access to the garage, the town’s tethering ordinance had been violated.
“The dog is outside from early morning to bedtime and there is evidence of distress,” he said. “That gives the court the right to have the dog surrendered.”
Hearing the case was Westchester County Court Judge David Zuckerman who asked for final summations to be submitted from Albert and Smith. His decision is expected sometime after Jan. 20.