MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A Montgomery woman faces more than four months behind bars in a cruelty case in which her small puppy died in her backyard, tangled in brush and choked by a rope.
Along with being inhumanely tied up, investigators say the dog was left without water and food on a hot summer day.
The Montgomery Humane Society says the incident was totally preventable.
On June 1, around 6:30 p.m., Montgomery police were called to a home on Althea Street, off of Ann Street near Robert E. Lee High School, after getting a call about a dead dog in the backyard.
Robert Bryant, Chief of the Montgomery Humane Society's Humane Officer Division, was called out to the scene by MPD. When he arrived at the house, the dog was already deceased and Bryant reported that it was improperly tethered with a slip lead, which cut off the animal's air supply and caused it to asphyxiate.
The American pit bull terrier puppy was less than six months old. He was attached to a slip lead, which was attached to a metal chain connected to a clothesline pole. The slip lead appeared to be wrapped repeatedly around a stick in the yard, strangling the puppy as he desperately tried to free himself.
The puppy was covered in flies and appeared to have fly eggs in and around its mouth.
When Bryant spoke to the owner, Jessica Pruette, 23, she said she didn't know how the puppy had gotten itself caught up in such a way. She claimed she left the puppy outside for an hour as she cleaned out his normal living area.
But from the flies on his mouth, investigators believe the dog was outside longer than that, more likely several hours.
The puppy was also tied up outside on a 94-degree day with no food, water or shelter. The Montgomery Humane Society stresses that pets left outside for any period of time must have access to food, water and shelter.
In December 2015, Pruette surrendered another dog to the Humane Society telling the shelter that she did not have enough time for it. Investigators said it wasn't clear where she got her new puppy.
Bryant took photos at the scene, seized the puppy and it was sent to Auburn for a necropsy (or animal autopsy). Those results are pending.
Animal Cruelty Investigator Denton Hawk took Robert Bryant's testimony on the case and gave Pruette an opportunity to make a statement. After she was read her Miranda Rights, she declined to speak and requested an attorney. Hawk completed a municipal court deposition and went to the city magistrate to press charges against her for Cruelty to a Dog or Cat Second Degree.
"With the slip lead, the more the puppy pulled, the tighter it got," Hawk explained. "You can't legally tether a dog with a slip lead. You need to use a swivel and attach the swivel to the collar."
Last week, Pruette had a bench trial in front of Judge Les Hayes in Montgomery Municipal Court on North Ripley Street.
Bryant and Hawk testified, as did Pruette. Photos of her deceased puppy were also shown as evidence.
Judge Hayes found her guilty and sentenced her to 125 days in jail.
In Alabama, Cruelty to a Dog or Cat Second Degree is a Class A misdemeanor and a person found guilty can be sentenced to fines and/or imprisonment.
Due to the severity of the negligence, Pruette received a jail sentence.
She testified that she worked as a vet tech for a short time at a local veterinary office.
Pruette has since filed an appeal and the case is headed to circuit court. We reached out to her court-appointed attorney and we are waiting to hear back from him. Investigators say she no longer lives at the location where her dog died.
"Anytime you tether a dog, whether it's in the City of Montgomery or the county, you must tether it in a way that it has access to fresh, clean water and shelter. On June 1 when this happened, the temperature was 94 degrees, much too hot for a 3-6 month old puppy to be out in those conditions," Investigator Hawk said. "I believe that this death could have been prevented if the puppy had been property tethered and not tethered for too long of a time.
Mindy Gilbert, Alabama State Director for The Humane Society of the United States, says judges are being more proactive and sending a strong message to the community about animal abuse with stiff sentences. She feels that any time the court takes the matter of animal suffering seriously is "applause-worthy."
Investigator Hawk also thought the judge's move to give Pruette jail time instead of just a fine shows that animal cruelty situations, even misdemeanor cases, can come with serious consequences.
"Tethering has to be done humanely. And if you don't tether the dog properly and something like this winds up happening, you can go to jail,' he added.
He recommended tree tie-outs, which can be purchased online or at a pet stores and come with a swivel attached.
A neighbor who identified herself as Martha was appalled by the case.
"I detest animal abuse. I can't stand it. I am really sorry that happened. It's just heartbreaking. My heart goes out to that little puppy," she said. "Maybe they deserved more for leaving that poor dog out. It was close to 100 degrees."
Rules for humane tethering include:
- style="margin-left: 40px;">Dog must have access to fresh, clean water and shelter at all times, whether tethered or not.
- style="margin-left: 40px;">Tether must be 10 feet or more in length
- style="margin-left: 40px;">Must be attached to a collar that is not too tight (dog owner should be able to fit 2 fingers between the dog's neck and the collar)
- style="margin-left: 40px;">Cannot be a slip lead
- style="margin-left: 40px;">Tether must not be more than 1/8th of the weight of the dog (i.e. 60 X .125= 7.5, 30 X .125= 3.75)
- style="margin-left: 40px;">Must have a swivel on both ends.