Sunday, 26 May 2024

Woman sentenced to jail in dog abuse case

LAKEPORT – A woman accused of what Animal Care & Control officials say is one of the worst dog neglect cases they've even seen has been sentenced to six months in jail and ordered to pay thousands of dollars in reimbursement for the animal's care.

Donna Mae Heath of Lakeport was sentenced Thursday on a charge of felony animal abuse in the case of her family's German shepherd, George, who later received the nickname “Hero.”

Heath pleaded no contest to the charge Feb. 2.

On Thursday Judge Richard Martin sentenced Heath to three years of formal probation, the terms of which include 180 days in county jail and 100 hours of community service, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff.

In addition, Martin ordered Heath to pay $1,399.84 to Lake County Animal Care & Control, and $2,653 to Wasson Memorial Veterinary Clinic. Martin ruled if Animal Care & Control and Wasson had already been reimbursed by donations, that the money would go to a fund set up at Animal Care & Control for the care of other abused animals.

As part of Heath's sentence, she will not be allowed to possess any animal for three years, Hinchcliff reported.

Hinchcliff said Animal Control Officer Nehemiah White and DA Investigator Von Morshed investigated the case.

White, who responded to the home to conduct a welfare check on June 21, 2006, said Hero's case was reported by a concerned neighbor.

When he asked Heath about the dog, he said she told him she had just run out of dog food, that it was her son's dog and she hadn't seen the dog for days.

Heath called to the dog, said White, which came limping up from the backyard on bleeding feet filled with foxtails. The dog was extremely thin, with his ribs and hip bones protruding, and his spine clearly visible. White said the dog also was missing patches of hair.

Heath's defense attorney, Stephen Carter, said when Heath saw the dog at that point, she was shocked, because she hadn't seen him for some time.

Carter said Heath was responsible for a household including her son and granddaughter, and that she also was suffering from a number of medical conditions, including carpal tunnel, which prevents her from lifting bags of dog food.

He said Heath had told her son that she couldn't take care of the dog any more because of her health and other responsibilities. “She was basically taking care of the whole house,” Carter said.

Carter added, “It was a very sad case all around.”

White said he immediately took the frightened dog from the home and transported him to Wasson Memorial Veterinary Clinic.

When Morshed later went back to Heath's home, she was unable to find any dog food or feeding bowls for food or water, Hinchcliff reported. Heath then told Morshed that she was planning on putting George down because he had stopped eating.

When Hero arrived at Wasson, he weighed 61 pounds, said White. Over the next month, through care and compassion, the dog gained weight and underwent several surgeries to remove the foxtails, White reported.

Dr. Chris Holmes of Wasson told investigators that Hero's case was one of the worst – if not the worst – cases of neglect and abuse he had ever seen. Holmes said Hero's condition could have been prevented with food and water, and basic preventative care.

Deputy District Attorney Rachel Abelson handled the case's sentencing phase for the DA's Office.

Carter argued against prison time, and said Martin followed the Probation report, which suggested 180 days in jail, rather than prison. Carter said Heath will actually serve four months in jail.

He said he was pleased with the sentence because Heath won't go to prison, although he would have preferred no jail time because of Heath's medical and other concerns.

Carter said he believes Heath's son was more culpable for the dog's neglect, but that Heath was charged because she was home when Animal Control arrived.

“As I argued to the judge, we were never contending that the dog had not been neglected miserably,” Carter said.

Hero, said White, “was a very good dog,” who was adopted out in early fall to a Bay Area family who had heard about his case.

The family, who has other dogs and children, have since reported that Hero is doing well, said White. The family reportedly took Hero, who now has a new name, to a dog dermatologist, who helped him grow back his hair.

Carter said Hero's recovery is the happy part of an otherwise very sad story.

White said he often sees neglect cases, but they're not usually this bad.

Animal Care & Control Director Denise Johnson agreed. “This is definitely one of the worst abuse cases we've seen in my career here as far as dog neglect,” she said.

“We've had some livestock cases that have come close,” she added, some of which are still pending in the courts.

Hinchcliff was pleased with Judge Richard Martin's ruling in the case.

The DA's Office, said Hinchcliff, is “gung ho” on animal abuse and neglect prosecutions, although they don't often get the stringent sentences they seek.

This case was different, said Hinchcliff. “It turned out real good as far as we're concerned,” he said.

Things have also apparently turned out well for the dog formerly known as Hero, with his new family and a new life.

“He's happy and healthy and very much loved,” said Johnson.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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