January 14, 2013
A Charlottesville woman accused of duct taping a muzzle on her dog will spend time in jail. Loretta Watkins was sentenced to 40 days in jail Monday morning on two misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty.
The charges stem from an incident on September 17, 2012, when police got a call regarding two dogs inside Watkins' home. The officer who responded said the home was covered in feces and urine and there was no food or water in sight.
The officer said one dog, a larger Shepard, had duct tape wrapped around its muzzle. He said the other dog, a small poodle mix, looked severely malnourished. The dogs were taken to the SPCA.
A veterinarian who evaluated the dogs at the SPCA said in court that the small dog was blind, looked disoriented, was very thin and had "copious amounts of fleas." The veterinarian said the Shepard was of a healthy weight. She also explained how muzzling a dog could prevent it from necessary food or water, cause panic, respiratory issues or prevent a dog from panting if overheated, though this particular dog did not show signs of respiratory issues and was not underweight.
Watkins admitted to duct taping the dog's muzzle while running errands, when she had guests or overnight while she was away from home. She said she did it to prevent the dog from getting into the trash.
"I know I did something wrong. I shouldn't have did it," Watkins told the judge. She explained that she was in the process of being evicted and couldn't find anyone to help care for her dogs while looking for a place for all of them to stay.
The defense argued there was no proof that the duct taped muzzle affected the dog's health or that the other dog's malnourishment or flea problem was a result of the September incident. He argued this was a case of neglect more than cruelty and that Watkins has learned from her mistake and feels remorse.
The judge said he didn't think Watkins' actions came from a place of a depraved heart but rather a misguided sense of trying to care for the animals. He said it would have taken one call to the SPCA to get help.
The judge found Watkins guilty on both charges and sentenced her to 180 days for each offense, suspending 160 days of each sentence.