ARCADIA — The owner suspected of setting his dog on fire last month is in custody.
Larry Wallace, 66, of 149 Harris Road in Arcadia, was booked into the DeSoto County Jail on Monday. He faces charges of arson and animal abuse, both felonies. A court date is scheduled for May 19.
A warrant was issued by the state attorney's office for Wallace's arrest, Arcadia police Lt. Gary Evans said. He was arrested at his home, which he shares with about three relatives. Evans said Wallace was compliant, but surprised at the arrest.
Wallace owned the dog for less than a year, and there are initial reports of juveniles stating the dog was on fire. No other animals were found at the home.
Evans said Wallace made a comment to a television reporter about wanting the dog back, but no official statement has been made to police.
Wallace's dog, Hope, has been recovering at Blue Pearl veterinary hospital in Tampa since she was burned on March 20. The Shar-Pei mix puppy suffered severe scarring around her groin, burns in both corneas and lost a significant amount of weight and muscle. Half of her body was torched by third-degree burns.
As veterinarians wrapped Hope in full-body, cow-print bandages on Tuesday, she showed signs of significant improvement as tender pink tissue crept back into her thick black fur coat. After months of medication and therapy, Hope is expected to make a full recovery.
When Hope's corneas burned, they filled with fluid and began melting, said Dr. Tammy Miller-Michau, the dog's ophthalmologist. In her first week at Blue Pearl, Hope got eye drops every hour around the clock due to concerns about both eyes rupturing.
While she has some scarring, Hope has made strides in her vision, Miller-Michau said. She described Hope's current vision as foggy, like looking through a snowstorm.
"She will be able to easily chase toys and chase squirrels, but she probably won't be able to read a newspaper or drive a school bus," she joked.
Hope may be able to go home to her local vet in Arcadia as soon as next week in the care of Leigh Sockalosky, office manager at Hardee Animal Clinic in Wauchula and president of Hardee Animal Rescue Team.
Sockalosky, 44, drives more than two hours round trip every day to check on Hope in the hospital. She packs two orthopedic beds, donated blankets and toys just for Hope.
Hope was the name given by Sockalosky.
"She teaches that no matter what you're going through, there's hope at the end," she said. "Don't give up. It's not as bad as it always seems."
Her reaction to Wallace's arrest: "We're relieved for Hope."
Anyone interested in donating to Hope's care can make donations to the nonprofit Hardee Animal Rescue Team via its website, hardeeanimalrescueteam.weebly.com.