ST. PETERSBURG — On her website, Carla Ann Thomas describes her business as a "health food store for dogs and cats."
Healthy Paws, on Central Avenue, sells holistic dog and cat food and offers blueberry facials for man's best friend. She also teaches her own brand of animal behavior training.
Thomas spent most of the weekend at a canine relay race in Palmetto, where several of her champion dogs competed.
But on Sunday, she was called back to St. Petersburg by her mother. The police were at Healthy Paws and wanted to speak to her.
On Sunday evening, Thomas was booked into the Pinellas County Jail on an animal cruelty charge. Police said they found her 5-year-old Akita, Sache, dead in a small room at the business. Officers said the dog didn't have food or water, the air conditioning was off and the windows closed, and the room was unsanitary.
Thomas said the arrest is a misunderstanding.
"It's completely erroneous," said Thomas, who was released from jail Sunday night after posting $5,000 bail. "The loss is bad enough, and then just dealing with this afterward is just like a knife in the heart."
A police report said the gray and white dog was found in a front room at the business at 2250 Central Ave. There were empty food and water containers in the room.
Thomas said she last fed Sache about 7 p.m. Friday. She left him with water but no food. She said the animal, which suffered from a skin condition, was fasting for his own health. She set the air conditioning at 80 degrees, then went home to sleep. There was a long weekend ahead and an early rise Saturday for the dog competition.
Thomas said the dog, which she adopted in November, may have appeared unkempt because she recently shaved his long fur to help with skin irritation. She said she was nursing Sache back to health, and kept him in the locked room because he could be aggressive with strangers.
She said the business was generally messy because the landlord began doing construction there in the last three weeks. Thomas said she had last opened the store in March and planned to leave the building in two weeks.
Thomas said she has been working as a dog trainer and groomer since she was 16. She got her first job at a PetSmart and has spent years training dogs for search and rescue.
Those who have worked with her were shocked by the charges.
"I know her as a person who is an animal lover," said John Fudens, a Clearwater homeopathic doctor who works with animals and has known Thomas for a decade. "I am stunned that she has been arrested for animal cruelty."
The landlord, Abraham Reed, declined to comment extensively, but said in a brief interview that he had entered the business over the weekend to do repairs but that he did not change the air conditioning.
Staff writer Katie Sanders contributed to this report. Luis Perez can be reached at (727)892-2271 or [email protected]