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Judge upholds 15-month sentence in Hillsborough animal cruelty case

TAMPA — Starving a dog nearly to death will cost a Town 'N Country man 15 months of his life, Hillsborough County Animal Services announced Friday.

Judge William Fuente upheld the prison sentence for Wilmer Fernandez in a morning hearing.

Fernandez, 37, was found guilty of the November 2008 charge of cruelty to animals. Adjudication was withheld against his girlfriend, Aixa Rodriguez, who shared a home with Fernandez at the time of the arrest.

Animal Services investigators said during a separate investigation sheriff's deputies spotted the emaciated, white Boxer named Casper, who could not stand and had chronic pain, chained up in the back yard of Fernandez's home in clear view of people inside the house.

Two other underweight dogs were confined in the yard, and two thin puppies were kept in the house, Animal Services said. All the animals had parasites and medical issues.

After confiscating the animals, investigators charged Fernandez and Rodriguez with four counts of cruelty to animals and three counts of confinement of animals without food or water.

Only the third-degree felony charge on the treatment of Casper made it to trial. In March 2010, a judge sentenced Fernandez to 15 months in prison, 45 months' probation, 300 community service hours, more than $1,000 in restitution and said he could never own, possess or care for an animal again.

Rodriguez, 35, received five years of probation, 300 hours of community service and an order never to own an animal again.

Fernandez's attorney appealed the length of the sentence, and he was released on appellate bail.

Friday's ruling will send him back into state custody.

Animal Services celebrated the victory on Casper's behalf. He has been adopted by a family, and his weight is up to 80 pounds.

Dennis McCullough, operations director for Hillsborough County Animal Services, said in a statement, "It's a great day for Casper, the animal community, and our team. Our department's mission remains steadfast: zero tolerance for animal cruelty in Hillsborough County, Florida."

Judge upholds 15-month sentence in Hillsborough animal cruelty case 09/09/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 9, 2011 9:20pm]
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