Cases of Interest

Severe Malnutrition Leads to Animal Cruelty Charge

Overview

In August of 2010, MSPCA Law Enforcement Officer Christine Allenberg investigated one of the most extreme cases of starvation she had ever seen.  Officer Allenberg began by documenting the physical and medical condition of several Pit Bull puppies and adult dogs that had been impounded by the officers of the Thomas J. O’Connor Animal Control and Care Center in Springfield when they escaped from their owner’s home and began running loose in the street. She then interviewed their owner to try and uncover how the animals had become so severely malnourished. 

The owner and her son told Officer Allenberg of their belief that the dogs had inherited a genetic allergy to all but the most expensive commercial dog foods, which they could not afford.  They had never taken any of the dogs to a veterinarian for diagnosis or treatment of this allergy, but insisted that a normal diet would cause the dogs severe health problems.  They felt that they possessed specialized knowledge of Pit Bull health and nutrition needs, so created their own diet, comprised almost entirely of lettuce, beets, and carrots.  The family also kept the dogs inside nearly all the time, letting them out only to go to the bathroom in a stockade-fenced yard, believing that their neighbors would not understand that the dogs’ wasted appearance was a symptom of their inherited “sickness”. 

A short time later that same day, Officer Allenberg received a call that dogs had been heard barking at the woman’s home. She contacted the woman and made arrangements to meet her there.  The woman and her son insisted they did not own any other pets, but when the son opened the front door, four more emaciated Pit Bull puppies ran out onto the porch.  The woman agreed to surrender ownership and to allow Officer Allenberg to check the premises. No other animals were found, but Officer Allenberg did observe the small wooden bin holding some lettuce and carrots that the woman admitted was the dogs’ only food supply for the next day and a half.

The veterinarian’s summary stated that the eleven dogs’ bones were so prominent that she had never seen anything like them outside of anatomy textbooks. The puppies weighed only a quarter to a half of what they should at their age, and some of the dogs were so profoundly emaciated that medically, their condition did not appear to be compatible with life. 

Outcome

Both the woman and her son were charged with eleven counts of animal cruelty. The woman plead guilty to three counts and was sentenced to a year of supervised probation during which she cannot own any animals. Her son received the same sentence.  Fortunately, prompt care and appropriate feeding allowed most of the dogs to recover and be placed in new homes.