There is a fascinating case out of Florida this week that raises questions over the required proof needed for a criminal conviction — in this case, animal cruelty. Carla Ann Thomas was convicted of animal neglect after her a 5-year-old Akita named Sache was found dead after being left over the weekend at Healthy Paws, Thomas’ health food store for dogs and cats in St. Petersburg. She was convicted despite the fact that there was no necropsy and no one knows why the dog died. The prosecutor says that that is immaterial.
Various people have come forward to say that Thomas is dedicated to animals and particularly loved Sache. Thomas says that she left water for the dog when she left him for a day and that he was on a fasting regimen for a day due to a skin condition. Thomas went to “flyball tournament” with her other dogs and did not take Sache because the dog has a “social anxiety disorder.” in which her other dogs participated in a ball-chasing competition. She fed the dog on Friday and left her on Saturday to return on Sunday. On Sunday, however, her landlord came into the shop only to find the dog dead and a room that looked “ransacked.” A state witness testified that the place smelled pungent when he entered and seemed to lack proper ventilation.
Now here is the interesting question: if the dog died of natural causes unconnected to the abandonment, is there still as crime? The prosecutor says yes and the cause of death does not matter. Leaving the dog for a day was animal neglect. Yet, what if an expert would testify that the dog died with an hour of being left alone. Clearly it is not neglect to leave a dog for hours at a time. Many people leave their dogs during the work day for up to 8 hours.
Pinellas County Judge Donald Horrox, however, found evidence in the two-day trial showed she suffered a serious “lapse of judgment” and rejected the need to know why the dog died after a jury found Thomas guilty.
Thomas, 31, was sentenced to 12 months probation with 30 days in the Pinellas County Jail. She will be allowed to keep her five other dogs with restrictions.