Thursday, July 6, 2017

(June 2017) Florida: Joseph Shepherd and his girlfriend Diana Harrelson charged after leaving emaciated, blind, deaf, matted dog covered in maggots tethered to trailer

FLORIDA -- Sarasota County Animal Services has dealt with many animal abuse cases but there’s a recent case deputies say rates among one of the worst they’ve seen.

“If you look at the photos, it’s horrific,” says Lt. Daniel Tutko, Sarasota Sheriff’s Office.


So horrific, half of the photos we can’t show you. Sputnik, a 14-year-old terrier mix, had to be euthanized.

Tutko says, “When the person picked him up, found it lethargic, matted, filled with maggots infection in its eye, one eye was missing, foul smell from the dog…it was suffering.”

Tutko says a Good Samaritan found the dog tied with a cord around its collar to this trailer on Walnut Avenue.  “I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. To let a dog get in that state you can’t imagine why someone would let that happen.”

Tutko says the reason the owner gave for tethering the dog outside is upsetting. “She wanted to let it die a natural death and that natural death was full of pain and suffering should not have occurred,” says Tutko.

Animal services officers in Sarasota were first made aware of the dog's condition on June 5, when a person rescued the animal.

The dog was reportedly in extreme distress, with matted fur and extreme dental decay. The 14-year-old terrier mix, named Spunik, who is both deaf and blind, was covered in maggots and attached to a cable tether without shelter.

Officers transported the dog to a veterinarian who performed humane euthanasia to end Spunik's suffering.

Deputies charged the homeowner, 55-year-old Joseph Shepherd, with abandoning an animal and animal cruelty.

Shepherd says, “All we ever gave our dogs is love, it’s an unfortunate situation.”

Shepherd says they placed Sputnik outside for a few days after Shepherd returned from the hospital and couldn’t care for him.

“He was defecating on the floor, urination more than I can take of it at the time. The dog was fed, given water, the skin condition I had no knowledge of,” explains Shepherd.

“This shouldn’t happen. There are resources available, we’ll come over, we’ll take the dog,” says Lt. Tutko. He adds, “It’s an excruciatingly painful death he shouldn’t have had to endure.”


Through a continued investigation, deputies learned that Shepherd's girlfriend, 62-year-old Diana L. Harrelson was aware of the dog's condition but moved to Mississippi in the months prior.

On June 7, Harrelson contacted Animal Services in order to retrieve another dog the couple owned named Bella, who was impounded due to excessive parasites and fleas.

Tutko says Bella is a 10-year-old terrier mix and is fairly good shape suffering from some fleas and parasites. The Sarasota County Animal Services wants the couple to sign over ownership so it can put the dog up for adoption but Shepherd says they won’t give up their dog.

During interviews with deputies, Harrelson admitted the last time she took Spunik to a veterinarian was in August 2016. 

Harrelson claimed she didn't have enough money to pay for euthanasia and claimed she wanted Spunik to "die a natural death" [eaten alive by maggots].

Harrelson was given a notice to appear Monday and faced the same charges as Shepherd. She was released on a $2,120 bond.

Bella remains in the custody of the Sarasota County Animal Services Section and will more than likely be transferred to a rescue facility at a later date.

Born: March 02, 1962
Age: 55
Residential Address: 4118 WALNUT AVE, SARASOTA FL 34234


(WXYZ - June 30, 2017)

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