BOZEMAN - More than 30 sled dogs found abandoned without food, water or shelter were given clean bills of health Monday and began their trip to Maine, where they will live with the owner's father while a criminal case is pending.
The 31 dogs are part of an animal cruelty case against John T. Hessert, who's charged with felony and misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty after officials found 33 emaciated sled dogs on his property.
District Judge Holly Brown ruled in May that Hessert's father, Stephen Hessert, should be allowed to take 31 of the dogs to his 96-acre property in Maine.
One older dog was allowed to remain in local foster care, while another younger dog will be sold to its foster owner. Eight puppies will remain in foster care in Bozeman pending the outcome of the animal abuse trial set for Aug. 13.
According to court records, a man called animal control Jan. 30 to report that the dogs were being kept in an unsafe environment outside West Yellowstone near Targhee Pass. The man said he hadn't seen the dogs' owner in several days.
A veterinarian examined the dogs on Feb. 2 and determined that they were all "well below normal health and had not been being fed enough food," according to court records. One of the dogs had a collar embedded in its neck and other dogs had frostbite.