NEW PORT RICHEY — Carol Brown is 75 and has arthritis and a new knee, but still she walks her neighbor's dogs two to three times a day because she needs the money: $35 a week. And she loves the dogs, two Yorkshire terriers, Ellie and Emma.
At 4 p.m. on Oct. 21, Brown had taken the dogs outside Joe Disparti's home on Lori Lane in Seven Springs for their walk when a woman ran up to her.
Brown said the woman shouted: "I want those dogs."
Brown knew Disparti and his wife, Wendy, were going through a divorce. She assumed this woman was Wendy, as she said the dogs were hers.
"She was a wild woman," Brown said.
Brown told the woman she couldn't have them. She was responsible for 54-year-old Joe Disparti's dogs. She couldn't give them to someone else. Brown said the woman cussed, called her names and grabbed at the leashes. Brown didn't let go.
Then, Brown said, the woman pushed her down and tried to pull the leashes from her hand. She only let go, she said, when the woman kicked her hand. The woman took off with Ellie and Emma, leaving Brown on the ground. Brown cried and waited for Joe Disparti to come home, so she could tell him his dogs were gone. She called the authorities.
"I was so upset," Brown said. "My concern was for the dogs."
Authorities eventually issued a warrant for Wendy Disparti's arrest. On Monday, the 53-year-old Tarpon Springs woman turned herself in to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. She is charged with battery on a person aged 65 or older.
This is her first arrest in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. A sheriff's report says the dogs are marital property — belonging to both Joe and Wendy Disparti — so there were no theft charges.
Brown said the dogs were returned to Joe Disparti's house a few days after they were taken. She said she had a panic attack after the incident and went to the doctor's office to get X-rays, to make sure no bones were broken. She said she's doing okay now. But she wished the woman would have called to apologize. She understands if it was a heat-of-the-moment thing. Brown loves animals, too.
"I had nothing to do with her divorce," Brown said. "I'm 75 — I'm not looking for her husband."
Wendy Disparti, who is a secretary at Longleaf Elementary School, was released on $30,000 bail within hours of her arrest.
Summer Romagnoli, a spokeswoman for Pasco County Schools, said there is an internal investigation into the matter. Disparti has not been placed on leave.
A woman who answered a number listed for Wendy Disparti declined to speak to a reporter Tuesday.
Joe Disparti could not be reached for comment.
Brown said she has been walking the dogs again, though now she carries pepper spray.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.