A watchful neighbor with a cell phone captured video of a Fort Pierce man kicking, punching and whipping his dogs with a harness, grabbing the attention of local animal rescue groups.
A judge decided the owner, Margareto Lopez-Moreno, can keep the dogs even after the city fought to have the dogs removed from his custody.
According to Lopez-Moreno’s attorney, Jeffrey Garland, the owner of the dogs was training and disciplining the dogs and cares for them.
Judge Edmond Alonzo agreed the video showed abuse, according to the city and Garland, but not to a level to warrant the owner losing custody.
Friday, Judge Alonzo did set requirements for Lopez-Moreno to be able to continue to own dogs in the future.
According to Peggy Arraiz, the Code Compliance Manager for the City of Fort Pierce which oversees Animal Care and Control, the city agreed to the following terms:
-He will face three counts of civil animal abuse, in lieu of potential criminal charges.
-He will be under supervision for two years.
-He will have to take anger management and dog training classes if he does not surrender the animals.
-He will have to pay for the costs of boarding the three dogs at the Humane Society of St. Lucie County for the time they were there during an investigation.
Arraiz received the video earlier this year.
“You could see their fear. They cowered,” Arraiz said. “It was a difficult video to watch.”
In her 7 years as Code Compliance Manager, she says the city has only petitioned to have 5 animals taken away from their owners for abuse. This case was the first time, she says, that the city lost their case.
“It’s unusual, yes,” Arraiz said. “I don’t take the taking of an animal from their owner lightly. It’s something very, very serious."
The dogs were taken away from Lopez-Moreno during the course of the investigation, according to Arraiz. A judge ordered the Humane Society of St. Lucie County to release the dogs back to Lopez-Moreno in July.
Since then, Lopez-Moreno was evicted from his home, according to his attorney. After regaining custody, he surrendered the dogs to the Humane Society where at least one is up for adoption.
However, despite the pending litigation, Lopez-Moreno obtained a 4th dog unrelated to the investigation.
If he does not surrender that animal, he will have to take anger management and training classes. His attorney believes he will choose to surrender the dog.
Susan Parry, Founder of United For Animals, said she was disappointed in the judge’s decision to allow the dogs back into Lopez-Moreno’s custody in the first place.
“If this isn’t good enough to show animal abuse, I don’t know what is,” Parry said. “These dogs were not aggressive, they were passive. They’re terrified. They’re not out of control.”
Parry said she would like to see local decision makers take a stronger stand against animal abuse.
She said this video should show also show people how not to train a pet.
“The dogs weren’t doing anything wrong.”
“If you’re going to have a dog, learn how to care for it in the proper way...To strike a dog to where it cries out not once but six times in pain, that’s wrong."