TAMPA — It was all over a crawfish.
The 30 BB gun shots, the lockup in the "Kitty Penitentiary" and a cat's abandonment in McKay Bay followed Mittens' consumption of a pet crustacean.
Details of an animal abuse case that horrified the community last month came to light Wednesday in a Hillsborough County courtroom, where investigators sought to keep the former cat owner and her boyfriend away from animals for good.
County Judge Nick Nazaretian ruled that Mildred "Missy" Krack, 26, can never have another pet in Hillsborough.
A hearing for her 19-year-old boyfriend, Giovanni Estrada, who has been charged with animal cruelty, was rescheduled for Nov. 5.
Krack said she thought Estrada had planned to release Mittens into the wild after the cat ate one of his pet crawfish. She said she didn't know he planned to shoot Mittens with pellets and dump her in the bay.
"What kind of person does that?" Nazaretian asked her.
"A very sick person," Krack answered in a soft voice. "I didn't know he was going to do that. We were supposed to be letting her go."
But Krack didn't explain why Mittens was put into a cat carrier decorated with labels like "Kitty Penitentiary" and "Cell 666." The carrier lists a "Warden" as "Missy."
The judge read over the doodles in disgust. "Do you run some sort of jail?" he asked.
"No," Krack nearly whispered.
And the decorations?
"That was Giovanni's idea," Krack said. "He had originally told me that decorating the carrier was a joke."
Investigators said Estrada told them the two crawfish he kept in a fish tank were some of his first pets, one of the investigators, Cpl. Ken Vetzel, testified.
The one Mittens got a hold of was named Crawfish Sr., an animal services spokeswoman said.
Nazaretian reacted with surprise. "But you go to restaurants and they eat those," the judge said.
As for the punishment for Mittens' meal, Krack told investigators Estrada locked the cat in the carrier and drove it to the bay a couple of days later.
On Wednesday, Krack told Nazaretian that she sat obliviously in Estrada's truck while Estrada took the cat carrier to the water. She said she didn't hear the BB gun shots over the truck's radio.
Cpl. Vetzel said Krack gave him a different account about what happened at the edge of the water. In Krack's recorded statements, she told investigators she and Estrada were there together.
After Estrada shot the cat, he and Krack stood there, embracing, Vetzel testified. Krack said she was crying, her back to the bay, when Estrada kicked the cat carrier to the water.
The cat was discovered near 3 a.m. Sept. 1 by a couple walking along the beach who heard gurgling coming from the water.
The couple took the battered cat to Florida Veterinary Services. Investigators said Mittens, who was renamed Lovey, was adopted by a veterinarian and is doing well. The cat now has a "Mrs. Lovey Howell" page on Facebook that includes status updates and get-well cards.
Tips to Hillsborough County Animal Services led investigators to Estrada and Krack about two weeks into the investigation.
Estrada was charged with felony animal cruelty. Criminal charges against Krack are pending.
Pam Perry, animal services' investigations manager, said Krack's involvement is complicated because it seems Estrada had emotional control over her.
Perry described Krack as meek and in denial.
"She was a participant in this," Perry said. "Is she a victim as well? Quite possibly."
Nazaretian ordered Krack to have no contact with Estrada.
"I just wish this had never happened," she told the judge.
Kim Wilmath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813)661-2442.