LARGO — Carla Ann Thomas is an animal lover who trains dogs, plays with dogs, sleeps with her dogs and says: "My dogs are my life."
But a jury on Wednesday found her guilty of animal neglect because she left her dog Sache alone for a weekend last year without proper provisions. Sache died.
Pinellas County Judge Donald Horrox read letters and heard testimony from many people praising her love and talent for her beloved pets. But Horrox said evidence in the two-day trial showed she suffered a serious "lapse of judgment."
The jury found Thomas had neglected her dog either by leaving her in an enclosed area without sufficient food and water; or doing so without proper ventilation and room to exercise.
The jury was not required to say which of those options it thought had occurred, but Horrox said it could have been both. Horrox sentenced Thomas, 31, to 12 months of probation with 30 days in the Pinellas County Jail.
"I think some jail time in this case is warranted based on the seriousness of an animal dying," Horrox said.
He allowed her to continue owning five other dogs, but imposed several conditions requiring her to get them veterinary care and not to use homeopathic remedies on them unless approved by a licensed veterinarian.
Defense attorneys vigorously attacked the state's case by pointing out no one ever autopsied Sache, a 5-year-old Akita, to see how the dog died.
"No necropsy, no clue, not guilty," said Assistant Public Defender James Maskowitz.
But Assistant State Attorney Kaitlyn Bagnoto said afterward that it was not necessary for the state to prove how the dog died, but to prove Thomas neglected Sache as defined by state law.
The case stems from an April 2010 weekend when Thomas was away from Healthy Paws, a health food store for dogs and cats Thomas used to own in St. Petersburg.
She was away at a "flyball tournament," in which her other dogs participated in a ball-chasing competition.
Thomas fed the dog on a Friday and left her plenty of water, Maskowitz said. On Saturday, while Thomas was at the tournament, Sache was fasting. Thomas was having Sache fast one day a week to help the dog get over a skin condition, Maskowitz said. The dog also had a "social anxiety disorder," he said. Thomas was planning to return Sunday.
That day, her landlord, Abraham Reid, went to the business at 2250 Central Ave., looked inside and could see Sache lying motionless. He testified this week that he saw overturned bowls and that the room appeared ransacked.
"Doggie, doggie, doggie," Reid called at the time. But there was no response. He called animal control, and later, the police.
St. Petersburg Officer Tim Rutherford testified that he smelled an "extremely pungent odor of feces" inside the business and did not feel or hear any air conditioning when he responded to the call.
He later spoke to Thomas, who acknowledged being away for the weekend, leaving some food and "two small bowls of water." And, Rutherford said, "she said the room actually gets quite warm when the AC's turned off."
Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232.