Florida Woman Found Guilty of Criminal Neglect In Leaving Dog At Store For A Day Despite Absence of Necropsy

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.

Source: Tampa Bay as first seen on ABA Journal

21 thoughts on “Florida Woman Found Guilty of Criminal Neglect In Leaving Dog At Store For A Day Despite Absence of Necropsy”

  1. I have to laugh, Lack of Judgement my butt. This is a judge who hs a lack of brains. or if he has them he sits on them!! Just sit in his court and watch him for a few minutes, I’m surprised with the times he’s stuck his foot in his mouth that he must need to have them rpaired.

  2. Did the cops or DA have a vendetta against her for some other reason? Did she vote Democratic in the last election?

  3. if she had to go to a public shelter for a hurricane leaving the animal home would be expected as most shelters don’t allow pets.

  4. Well in Arizona, leave your small kid in your car for a few minutes and you can go to jail.

    Google “when can i leave my child at home” for some general guidance.

    Short of being charged with a crime, “even worse” can occur, which that CPS gets involved and your kids are removed. And google generally suggests that can be for kids under 12 left alone. Your hellhole may vary.

    What’s crazy is one state lets six year old be left alone for three hours.

  5. I wonder how many parents charged with leaving a kid or kids at home for a similar amount of time get a jury trial and go to jail for 30 days in Florida, or any state? Just wonder’n.

  6. While it is strange that the dog’s body without a necropsy, there should not be any mystery about the death of of a creature with a thick fur coat trapped in a room with no A/C or ventilation for an extended period of time. No, it wasn’t the lack of food, but inadequate water combined with heat stress seem a very likely cause of death. Sometime persons who are passionate animal lovers go overboard and “rescue” animals they are unable to properly care for…that may be what happened here. The evidence actually echoes the name of this blog (res ipsa loquitur) except I’ve never heard that used in a criminal context…

    I do recall meeting the Ms. Thomas, long ago when her shop was on MLK Street N…she seemed a fairly prickly character, perhaps that is what turned the jury against her? It’s an odd case for sure, though no question Sache was neglected and most likely died as a result of that.

  7. My question is….Why was the Landlord on the property….I think maybe the Defense may not have give adequate cause….I wonder if the lady was behind in rent and the Landlord was trying to get he out….or had another use for the space…. Apparently she owned a business that dealt in healthy alternatives to commercial dog food….There are just so many different reasons why…

  8. Where was the dog supposed to relieve itself?

    Ventilation: I don’t know what screwey “southern” building code might be in effect in that location, but most building codes have more stringent requirements for ventilation in commercial spaces than residential. But if the store/dog owner turned off the ventilation system, then that may be moot. If the AC was off during warm weather in Florida, that could be a big part of the problem. Trapping a dog in a space (garage, shipping container, vehicle, etc.) that you reasonably suspect could get dangerously hot clearly would be cruelty – I suspect that this retail space wouldn’t clearly qualify though.

    Leaving a dog loose in a store full of odds and ends is risky. There are all sorts of dog toys and food treats where its a very good idea to not allow the dog to chew on them unattended as the dog might tear off a chunk and choke on it.

    There’s a school of thought that says that the safest way to leave a dog alone is one dog in one crate, no collar, no toys, no food/treats. That greatly reduces the chance of choking or strangulation. Basically, it’s tough for the dog to get him/her self in trouble in there. Obviously, though, you can’t leave a dog in a crate longer than it can reasonably go between potty breaks.

    While I don’t approve of what she did, and thus, don’t have a ton of sympathy for her, I would have a hard time saying that what she did was wildly different than the real-world “standard of care” for a large portion dog owners.

  9. I agree. There must be some other part to this. Not only does it sound a little fishy to me (reading the original news article back in April of 2010, I believe), but leaving a dog without food/water for 24 hours won’t kill it. There had to be something that the court is over looking. It’s not cruel to leave a dog for a day. What happens when people go on vacation? Not everyone boards their dogs. Usually, it’s just a neighbor coming by twice a day so the dog doesn’t poo/pee in the house… Something just doesn’t seem right here. Either way, I don’t think the woman was at fault.

  10. I have had dogs. No I wouldn’t leave them alone for more than say 10 hours. However, given the other facts surrounding this women’s love for dogs I would say this verdict is insane, or as MichaelB suggests there is some other factor involved in her prosecution.

  11. LARGO — Carla Ann Thomas is an animal lover who trains dogs, plays with dogs, sleeps with her dogs and says: “My dogs are my life.”

    But a jury on Wednesday found her guilty of animal neglect because she left her dog Sache alone for a weekend last year without proper provisions. Sache died.

    Pinellas County Judge Donald Horrox read letters and heard testimony from many people praising her love and talent for her beloved pets. But Horrox said evidence in the two-day trial showed she suffered a serious “lapse of judgment.”

    The jury found Thomas had neglected her dog either by leaving her in an enclosed area without sufficient food and water; or doing so without proper ventilation and room to exercise.

    The jury was not required to say which of those options it thought had occurred, but Horrox said it could have been both. Horrox sentenced Thomas, 31, to 12 months of probation with 30 days in the Pinellas County Jail.

    “I think some jail time in this case is warranted based on the seriousness of an animal dying,” Horrox said.

    He allowed her to continue owning five other dogs, but imposed several conditions requiring her to get them veterinary care and not to use homeopathic remedies on them unless approved by a licensed veterinarian.

    Defense attorneys vigorously attacked the state’s case by pointing out no one ever autopsied Sache, a 5-year-old Akita, to see how the dog died.

    “No necropsy, no clue, not guilty,” said Assistant Public Defender James Maskowitz.

    But Assistant State Attorney Kaitlyn Bagnoto said afterward that it was not necessary for the state to prove how the dog died, but to prove Thomas neglected Sache as defined by state law.

    The case stems from an April 2010 weekend when Thomas was away from Healthy Paws, a health food store for dogs and cats Thomas used to own in St. Petersburg.

    She was away at a “flyball tournament,” in which her other dogs participated in a ball-chasing competition.

    Thomas fed the dog on a Friday and left her plenty of water, Maskowitz said. On Saturday, while Thomas was at the tournament, Sache was fasting. Thomas was having Sache fast one day a week to help the dog get over a skin condition, Maskowitz said. The dog also had a “social anxiety disorder,” he said. Thomas was planning to return Sunday.

    That day, her landlord, Abraham Reid, went to the business at 2250 Central Ave., looked inside and could see Sache lying motionless. He testified this week that he saw overturned bowls and that the room appeared ransacked.

    “Doggie, doggie, doggie,” Reid called at the time. But there was no response. He called animal control, and later, the police.

    St. Petersburg Officer Tim Rutherford testified that he smelled an “extremely pungent odor of feces” inside the business and did not feel or hear any air conditioning when he responded to the call.

    He later spoke to Thomas, who acknowledged being away for the weekend, leaving some food and “two small bowls of water.” And, Rutherford said, “she said the room actually gets quite warm when the AC’s turned off.”


  12. Just a minor correction to the wording on the second to last paragraph.

    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.


    Pinellas County Judge Donald Horrox, however, [suffered a serious “lapse of judgment” and] in the [two-day show trial] and rejected the need to know why the dog died after a jury found Thomas guilty.

    The article had all the right words but I feel this revision better reflects the truth.

  13. s/I love dogs, but I have never dog guardian, regardless of the death, is 24-36 hours unusually long, torturously long?/I love dogs, but I have never been a dog guardian. Ignoring the death, is 24-36 hours unusually long, torturously long?/

  14. The dog was left alone for more than 24 hours, probably closer to 36 hours.

    I love dogs, but I have never dog guardian, regardless of the death, is 24-36 hours unusually long, torturously long?

    I would imagine a dog could be trained to be left alone that long and not feel neglected, but I also do not believe I have ever met such a dog.

    The place was described as ransacked. It’s hard to know what to make of that, but my interpretation is that sad dog was sad, lonely, anxious, ….

    I know cats can be left alone for that long just fine — which of course is more proof that cats are evil. But dogs?

    And I really do not know the answer — what do those of you who are dog guardians have to say about that?

  15. Dogs of working people are left alone a lot more than 8 hours on workdays. A working person *works* 8 hours a day. He gets an hour for lunch. He has a commute of 60 minutes in each direction (that’s the minimum it takes me to get in and out of Manhattan from my home in Queens). That’s 11 hours.

    While anything is possible and this dog might have died due to action or inaction taken by this individual, without an investigation that at least determines cause of death, how is it possible to assign blame, reach a conviction, and impost a penalty?

  16. The prosecutor’s grandparents may be deceased. If so, is the prosecutor being held on negligent homicide charges?

  17. After thinking for years that only kooks talked about the Police State, now I’m starting to feel a little Kooky myself, here lately.

    Where is the America I grew up in?

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