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Jacob McCowan and Jessica Smurthwaite Sentenced

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Bonnre County Abandoned Husky
Over the course of several days in January 2023, dozens of husky-type dogs were discovered abandoned or deceased in and around Bonner County, Idaho. Following an investigation, charges were filed against two former Bonner County residents, Jacob McCowan, 45, and Jessica Smurthwaite, 31, for their involvement in the abandonment. By the time charges were filed, McCowan and Smurthwaite had relocated to Utah.

The discovery in January 2023 of the 18 abandoned husky-type dogs in three locations in Bonner County, Idaho prompted a broader animal neglect investigation. According to the Bonner County Prosecutor’s Office and the Better Together Animal Alliance (BTAA), a local animal welfare non-profit, many of the rescued animals were in very poor condition. At the subsequent trial, BTAA executive director Mandy Evans testified that some of the ultimately 31 rescued dogs required advanced treatment for life-threatening conditions, including a dog pregnant with non-viable puppies, one with a uterine infection, and another with advanced glaucoma with an ulcerated eye. “The dogs showed a range of health and behavioral issues, including chronic gastrointestinal issues due to parasitic infestation and bacterial infection. All were malnourished, underweight, and under-socialized to the point of being considered feral.” It was the worst case—in terms of magnitude and impact—that Evans had experienced in her 13 years as BTAA’s executive director.

The abandoned husky mixes received care from the Better Together Animal Alliance. Jacob McCowan and Jessica Smurthwaite were charged with abandonment and animal cruelty in Bonner County.

One of the abandoned and emaciated huskies abandoned in Bonner County by Jacob McCowan and Jessica Smurthwaite

According to Bonner County Deputy Prosecutor Daniel Rodriguez, the dogs were used as sled dogs in a breeding operation. Once McCowan stopped making money from them, he stopped caring for the animals. The prosecutor noted that the emaciated dogs were abandoned in sub-freezing temperatures and were not left in locations at which they could readily be found. Neither McCowan nor Smurthwaite contacted the BTAA for assistance.

During McCowan and Smurthwaite’s June 2023 court appearance, plea agreements were reached in which charges against McCowan were reduced to 10 counts of animal cruelty and abandonment. Charges against Smurthwaite were dropped to two because the extent of her involvement could not be determined.

At the sentencing hearing later that month, Magistrate Judge Tera Harden sentenced both McCowan and Smurthwaite to jail, stating the that case warranted such an action. McCowan was sentenced to 750 days in jail, six years of supervised probation, a $5,000 fine, and was barred from owning any animal or being in one’s presence while on probation. Smurthwaite received a lighter sentence of 50 days in jail, three years supervised probation, and was barred from owning or being in the presence of any animal during her probation. In a separate hearing, both were ordered by Judge Harden to repay $20,873 to the Better Together Animal Alliance (BTAA) for their treatment and care of the dogs.

In both cases, Harden imposed a harsher sentence than that recommended by the prosecutor, who had recommended 500 days in jail for McCowan and 15 days on the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office labor program for Smurthwaite.
Bonnre County Abandoned Husky

One of the abandoned and emaciated huskies abandoned in Bonner County by Jacob McCowan and Jessica Smurthwaite

In McCowan and Smurthwaite’s defense, attorney Peter Cook argued that McCowan had fallen on hard times and was, himself, living in a tent in the middle of winter. He claimed that McCowan had struggled to care for his wife (Smurthwaite) and stepson, much less the dogs. The defense argued that now that McCowan is back on his feet and living in Utah with familial support, the conditions that precipitated the abandonment were unlikely to happen again. Both McCowan and Smurthwaite expressed remorse.

Court Documents:

CR09-23-0358 State of Idaho Plaintiff, vs. Jacob Melvin McCowan Defendant
CR09-23-0369 State of Idaho Plaintiff, vs. Jessica Lauren Smurthwaite Defendant.
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