When two-year-old pit bull Bella was found chained up outside in the Florida heat last summer, she weighed a frightening 23 pounds. Her owner was arrested, and she recovered and was adopted. On Tuesday her loving family rejoiced when her negligent caretaker was convicted on felony animal cruelty.
Last June, Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control received a tip about badly malnourished, chained-up dog behind a house in Delray Beach. Officers were told by resident Anthony Herring that “the dog belonged to a friend of a friend named Jay in drug Rehab.”
The man said he’d been watching the dog for over a month, and that she was sick and wasn’t eating, despite his efforts to feed her. However, upon her surrender, she was examined and it was determined that while indeed, she did have intestinal parasites, she was indubitably able to eat.
“She was near dead. Another two days she would have been dead,” said new mom Crystal Barany.
Poor Bella was so weak she couldn’t even stand.
“I did not allow her to starve,” Herring testified. “She lost weight.”
He claimed that in the six months he had her, her weight plunged despite his attempts to feed her soft food like grits. Veterinarians found that Bella had hookworms, but there was absolutely no food in her stomach.
Veterinarian Stephanie Poole said that “there were no issues of her ability to eat,” and noted that Bella doubled her weight in less than two months after being rescued.”
Herring was charged with felony animal cruelty for starving Bella, and misdemeanor unlawful confinement for keeping her tethered.
“Our laws against animal cruelty are on the books to protect those who can’t protect themselves,” State Attorney Dave Aronberg told the jury. “Even though Bella survived, the crimes were committed and the defendant needs to be held accountable for his actions.”
Aronberg typically delegates trial duty to assistant prosecutors, but as he has a rescued Bassett hound, he feels a personal connection with animal abuse cases.
“The defendant took a normal, playful dog and chained her to a fence, deprived her of proper food and water and turned her into a skeleton covered over with bug-infested skin,” he said. “Bella suffered for way too long and miraculously she survived.”
“Sadly, many cases of animal cruelty end in a painful death. Weak, bug-infested and tied down, Bella was about to become another statistic, until someone cared enough to call Animal Care and Control, who then saved Bella and changed this from a tragic tale to one with a happy ending.”
Bella’s new family didn’t even realize that there was so much hubbub surrounding the case.
“I was shocked, I didn’t know there was that much attention,” Barany said. “I just thought I was … doing a good deed taking this dog into my home.”
Aronberg’s presence in the case has understandably drawn some attention, which is exactly what he wants.
“We’re going to do everything we can to protect the most vulnerable amongst us, whether it’s children … or animals,” he said.
“It’s important that we set the standard to show this community is going to have zero tolerance for animal abuse. We’re not going to turn a blind eye to this, we’re not going to look away. We’re going to prosecute this and we’re going to make a statement.”
The trial lasted for three days, and the jury took less than 40 minutes to convict Herring of the charges.
“I was shaking and then when I heard guilty – I got teary-eyed,” said Barany. “It’s really sad but it’s justice for her and an example set for any other animals abused or neglected, and maybe people will see that we’re taking it seriously,”
She celebrated by buying Bella three new stuffed animals.
“She likes stuffed animals, she likes tennis balls – pretty much anything,” her mom said.
Herring will receive his sentence in August. Because Bella survived, the maximum sentence he can receive is one year.
“Today Bella is a happy, healthy dog adopted by a loving family,” Aronberg said. “But just because Bella was saved doesn’t mean we give a free pass to the person who took her to the brink of death, chained her to the fence and watched her wilt away.”