New York mother pleads not guilty to torturing family pets, abusing her children

By Frank Eltman, AP
Thursday, January 21, 2010

Prosecutors: NY mom repeatedly abused kids, pets

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. — A Long Island woman pleaded not guilty Thursday to abusing her children and family pets, sometimes forcing the children to witness her torturing animals to death, prosecutors said.

“This is a case where a mother subjected her children to the most unimaginable and horrific living conditions that I have ever seen,” Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said. “These kids were beaten, they were starved, they lived in absolutely horrendous conditions within their own household and this was done intentionally by the mother.”

Sharon McDonough, 43, killed numerous kittens and dogs, stashing the dead cats in the trash, and burying 42 dead dogs in the backyard of her Selden, Long Island, home, Spota said. The dogs were buried, he said, because some had identifying microchips implanted in them and McDonough feared being discovered if the carcasses were found in the trash.

The children were not only abused, but were forced to witness the deaths of family pets, the prosecutor said.

“Our investigation found evidence she wrapped duct tape around a cat’s nose and mouth and hung the animal from her child’s bunk bed, killing the cat,” Spota said, adding the woman’s “11-year-old daughter witnessed the cruelty.”

On another occasion in 2006, McDonough allegedly strangled a Maltese dog in the presence of her older daughter, who was 10 at the time, Spota said. The Maltese carcass was among those found buried in the yard, prosecutors said.

McDonough’s court-appointed attorney, James Saladino, told the judge Thursday he was considering an insanity defense for his client, who is being held on $100,000 bail. Saladino declined to elaborate outside court, saying he had just been assigned to the case and needed to investigate the allegations.

McDonough also is accused of using excessive corporal punishment because her toddler’s crying woke her up. “According to two of the children, Mrs. McDonough slapped the baby’s back repeatedly while screaming that she would kill the child,” the prosecutor said.

A Family Court judge removed custody of McDonough’s six daughters, ranging in age from 18 months to 13 years, from the home following her arrest in November. They are being cared for by relatives, an attorney for the children said.

Searches by the Suffolk County SPCA later uncovered the 42 buried corpses in the yard. Necropsies determined some of the animals died of “unnatural causes,” including some found with evidence their mouths had been duct-taped shut, prosecutors said.

She could face up to two years in prison if convicted of the top charge, aggravated animal cruelty. She also is charged with child endangerment and animal torture, misdemeanors that carry up to a year in jail. The prosecutor said he will lobby the state legislature for changes in the law to increase penalties for child endangerment.

McDonough’s adult son contacted authorities in November about the living conditions of his younger siblings. He had moved out of the home the previous August and grew increasingly concerned about the plight of the girls, Spota said.

There was no indication anyone had ever reported abuse in the home to Social Services, police or other agencies, Spota said Thursday.

Douglas McDonough, 21, told authorities the children were forced to subsist on peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. At one point, he brought his sisters frozen TV dinners, but later learned that his mother had confiscated the food.

Other food in the house was the exclusive domain of the children’s mother, the prosecutor said he was told. He described the home as “a concentration camp for the animals.” He claimed he and some of his siblings were present when animals were abused and killed. He attended the arraignment, but declined to speak with reporters afterward.

After McDonough’s arrest, some neighbors feared the worst for their pets which had disappeared in recent months. But Roy Gross of the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals later concluded that McDonough bought the animals or adopted them through shelters and other traditional outlets.

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