FREEHOLD – A Howell man was sentenced to five years in state prison on charges of animal cruelty after admitting last year his neglect caused the deaths of four German Shepard puppies in his care, announced Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.

Daniel McDonald, 26, of Freehold, was sentenced by Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Vincent N. Falcetano, Jr. The five-year concurrent sentences in a New Jersey state prison included four third degree animal cruelty charges and one charge of third degree receiving stolen property for being possession of a stolen tractor out of Monroe Township, Middlesex County.

As part of his plea agreement in November, McDonald entered into a consent order agreeing never to own, reside with, or take into his care or custody any living animal or creature.  McDonald was also ordered to perform 30 hours of community service on each of the four animal cruelty counts and to pay $800 in restitution to the owner of the puppies. The sentence is also concurrent to pending charges in Bergen and Middlesex counties.  Judge Falcetano also ordered McDonald not to have contact with the victims, not to have contact with two witnesses, and not to return to the scenes where the puppies were stolen from in Franklin Township and killed in Howell Township.  He also ordered him not to return to the scene where the tractor was stolen in Monroe.

The animal cruelty charges are related to the deaths of four German Shepherd puppies found deceased on a property in Howell Township where McDonald was temporarily residing. The remains of two deceased German Shepherd puppies were found in a fire pit on the property on May 18, 2020.  Investigators from the Howell Township Police Department and Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Law Enforcement Division, discovered the remains of two more deceased puppies that had been buried on the property.

The joint investigation ultimately revealed that the puppies were stolen from a farm in Somerset County on or about May 12, when the puppies were only three weeks old.  Investigators learned McDonald and his co-defendant, girlfriend Tricia Jaccoma were staying at the Somerset County farm prior to the time the puppies went missing and were in possession of the puppies while residing in a camper on the property in Howell.  Investigators also learned the puppies were ill, in distress, and were struggling to breathe prior to their deaths.  A necropsy performed on the two buried puppies revealed the puppies suffered from parasites and were severely emaciated and malnourished with “no indications of recent nutritional ingestion.”  In handing down the sentence Judge Falcetano told McDonald, he “can’t conceive of any more depraved act.”

During his plea, McDonald took full responsibility for not getting the puppies the proper care, thus resulting in their deaths.  Based on his statements, the charges against Jaccoma were dismissed at McDonald’s sentencing.

This case is assigned to Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Melanie Falco, Director of the Office’s Professional Responsibility and Bias Crimes Unit, and liaison to the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Law Enforcement Division.

McDonald is represented by Paul Zager, Esq. of Red Bank.