Morristown's Director of Human Services will have to wait at least another couple weeks to find out if a Rockaway Township judge believes he abused his dog.
Thomas Alexander, 61, was given seven summonses last spring alleging animal cruelty by “failing to provide a living creature with proper sustenance,” according to complaints.
After about seven hours in court Friday—held outside of Morristown because Alexander is a town employee—Judge Gerard Smith adjourned the trial since it was nearing 5 p.m.
The judge had not set a follow-up date at the end of Friday's proceedings.
Both a lieutenant with the state Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Morristown Animal Control Officer Samantha Judson signed complaints against Alexander earlier this year after determining Alexander had caused his former dog, Satin, to become emasciated and dehydrated through neglect. Alexander's attorney, Gary Moylen, argues it was not Alexander who had neglected the animal but a man Alexander had given the dog to after Alexander moved to a new apartment where he could not keep pets.
Prosecutor Peter King spoke to Judson, SPCA Officer Jeff Hunker and Margaret Kearns, the veteranarian who examined and treated Satin after Alexander forfeited the dog over to Judson on Dec. 23, 2011. It was then where Alexander said he'd returned to his former apartment in Beverly Gardens on Flagler Street to find his dog running loose in the neighborhood.
In their testimony, all three noted Satin was severely dehydrated and emasciated, a 19-pound dog that should on average weigh between 30 and 35 pounds.
"The dog was severely emasciated, dehydrated, very timid and lethargic," Judson said. "Her hair was falling out. Every bone in her body was showing."
Kearns said she used a nine-point scale to determine the health of a dog, nine being overweight, five ideal, one near death. Satin, she said, rated a two.
Moylen did not argue the dog was in very bad shape. He did, however, because he could not take the dog to where he was moving to in another section of Morristown.
This person, Alexander said in testimony, was a man from Newark who would come to his neighborhood most weekends to sell newspapers promoting The Nation of Islam. His name was Malik "Frankie" Rahim and, Alexander said, what had first begun as cordial pleasantries had developed over time into friendship.
Alexander said he was advised by town officials that he should move out of that part of town commonly known as "The Hollow." During testimony Friday, Alexander noted there had been issues in the neighborhood, including gun shots heard at night and drug activity in the nearby park. "It got really, really tough there," he said.
Alexander found an apartment by last fall, but it did not allow pets, he said. "I almost turned the apartment down," said Alexander, an employee with the town for more than 30 years. "I did not want to give my dog away."
He testified he'd tried to find shelters to take his dog but, once he told them he lived on Flagler Street, "they said, 'oh, we don't take dogs,'" Alexander testified.
But the man known mostly as "Frankie" kept expressing an interest in the dog, he said. And, "he had grown on me, and I believed that he was going to take care of him," Alexander said.
While Alexander's lease at his new apartment was signed for Nov. 15, 2011, he told the court he remained a tenant in his old apartment as he slowly packed up his things. Alexander didn't actually sleep in the new place until after Christmas, he said.
When he saw his old dog in terrible condition, Alexander said he panicked. "I cried, I picked the dog up, went to the apartment I still had the key for and examined the dog," he said. "I was overcome with emotion."
Alexander said he fed the dog with food he still had at the apartment and gave her water and proceeded to look for "Frankie." To this day, "Frankie" has not been found.
King questioned why "Frankie," whom Alexander said came through the neighborhood in a black pickup truck most weekends, had suddenly stopped showing up once Alexander had given him his dog. The prosecutor also questioned why there was no phone number, why no one else could say they had met "Frankie" and why there was no address beyond that he lived "somewhere on Orange Avenue in Newark." The prosecutor also questioned why Alexander had not properly vetted the person who was to become his dog's new owner in a similar way Alexander was vetted when he had adopted the dog several years before.
Alexander said, after he found his dog roaming Flagler Street and had turned her over to Judson, he went "countless" times to Orange Avenue to look for "Frankie," to no avail.
"Did you ever figure out how the dog came back [to Morristown]," King asked.
"State of shock," Alexander said. "I was convinced 'Frankie' was ... he presented himself as a person of stature and committment to animals."
Prosecutors also argued against Alexander's statement that he fed and watered the dog before trying to look for "Frankie." Based on Kearns' examination of Satin, the dog had not received any water or food for quite a while. While it would take some time to get a dog properly fed, it could be rehydrated much quicker.
Moylen accused both Judson and Hunker for not doing a thorough investigation before handing accusations out against Alexander. The defense attorney criticized Hunker for not reaching out to any of Alexander's neighbors and said, "you started the investigation with the assumption Thomas Alexander had abused this animal."
"No," Hunker said.
"You sought everything to support that assumption," Moylen said.
"No," Hunker said.
Defense witnesses were unable to say they knew "Frankie," or knew of his visits, but several expressed knowledge of Alexander's pending move and inability to keep Satin, including Alexander's son, Thomas E. Alexander, who testified his father had said "Frankie" was from the neighborhood.
Alexander's son, and several other witnesses, testified to the defendent's character, and that they could not see him abusing an animal.
"When he'd get off work, he'd feed the dog, take him out, then we'd sit down and have a conversation," said John Terry, his former upstairs neighbor and husband of Alexander's cousin. "Sometimes, he stopped home during work to walk her."
"The dog always looked healthy and well cared for," said Patrick Daniel Moylen, a longtime friend of Alexander's and the brother of Alexander's attorney. "It's just not in him to not care for an animal he loved.
"He's an extraordinary human being," Moylen said. "He loved this dog. There's just no way he ever did this."