Probation sentence for animal abuse was far too lenient

Teresita Hughes stands with her lawyer, David Parry, on Oct. 2 while receiving five years’ probation for animal cruelty. Under her plea agreement, the conviction won’t show on her record and she can breed up to 20 dogs if she complies with the special conditions of her probation.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

Teresita Hughes stands with her lawyer, David Parry, on Oct. 2 while receiving five years’ probation for animal cruelty. Under her plea agreement, the conviction won’t show on her record and she can breed up to 20 dogs if she complies with the special conditions of her probation.

Re: Probation in case of animal neglect | story, Oct. 3

Animal abuse sentence lenient

I was truly amazed at the lack of concern for abused animals reflected in the sentencing of Teresita Hughes on Oct. 2. The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office has worked on this case for over a year, examining health records and talking to the vets who cared for the abused dogs. The judge allowed postponement after postponement, while the dogs waited in limbo. Is this sentence the best they could do to let citizens in Pinellas know our legal system will ensure justice and enforce laws against animal abuse?

Ms. Hughes had 121 dogs in her home. She is not even zoned to have a kennel. Why was she permitted to purchase more dogs to breed? Where is code enforcement?

Isn't it bad enough that well over half of her previous group of dogs were seriously ill and that the others, due to poor breeding practices and lack of care, will more than likely also develop problems? Is the two-day class that she took really going to make her a good breeder?

A five-year probation without any animals might have been palatable, but allowing her to own animals and breed companion animals immediately is disgraceful.

Don't the people in Pinellas deserve the same swift justice and enforcement in cases of animal abuse as is dealt in other Tampa Bay jurisdictions? Each count against Ms. Hughes (and there were 58) could have meant a year in jail and a fine of $1,000.

Even if a plea deal was reached, why didn't the judge or State Attorney's Office recommend a stiffer penalty? She pleaded guilty to 58 counts of abuse and got off paying no restitution for vet bills, no fines, received no jail time and not even a guilty plea will be entered on her record.

Worse yet, this case set a precedent. Puppy mill breeders now know that Pinellas is the place to set up operations because nothing much will happen to you even if they find you.

A small nonprofit shelter, many volunteers and several local vets have worked miracles for these small dogs. And a breeder that had money to pay a high-priced criminal attorney for the last year and a half but had no money to provide even minimal care for dogs she kept in a cage 24 hours a day/seven days a week got off virtually scot-free. Her dogs were kept for breeding and her only concern was that she had puppies to sell for profit.

Go to the Suncoast Animal League's Web site on "Faces of a Puppy Mill" (suncoastanimal league.org/rescue_puppymill/faces.html) to see heartbreaking stories of what they survived. Many of these dogs will live forever with the health problems their abuse caused — and our legal system lets her go on to breed more dogs. Where is the justice?

Carly Schutte, Palm Harbor

Re: Probation in case of animal neglect | story, Oct. 3

Ban her from breeding pets

I think what upsets me about this case is not only the pitiful outcome as far as the sentence was concerned, but the words by Teresita Hughes' attorney: "Teresita is able to continue to be a breeder and with no conviction on her record and she's not responsible for the vet bills. That's the Suncoast's responsibility and the dogs will go to good homes and good people."

He is right about the last sentence. They will go to good homes or will be adopted by their hardworking foster moms and dads.

These dogs lived in a hell that most of you cannot imagine. Well, imagine this: never having your paws touch the grass; being kept in a crate too small, sometimes with several other dogs; having your paws become embedded in the crate; pushing out litters until you are no longer able to perform. This is what happens. These are facts, not fiction.

I was not at the hearing as I was asked to care for some pups in Lutz — smaller numbers, same problem. These pups were dumped at a shelter by a breeder. They all suffered from sarcoptic mange and urinary problems, two tested positive for heartworms, etc. This is just another case of bad backyard breeders.

There is only one way to fight these puppy mills and indiscriminate breeders: Do not buy from them! I have said this before, however, perhaps this case and others will hit home. If you feel you must have a purebred puppy, do your research. Visit the kennel. Meet the mother. Make sure they have been vetted properly. Take them to your own vet in order to be sure that you have received a healthy animal.

While good breeders will take a pup back, let me ask you, would you return the pup, knowing it came from a bad situation? Most would say "no," as they have already fallen in love and want to give the animal a good home.

Hats off to the Suncoast Animal League and director Rick Chaboudy. Their hard work only goes to show that there are loving folks out there that will do whatever is necessary to protect the animals.

Concerning Hughes' sentence, while I understand plea bargaining, this bargain has insulted hardworking rescuers. While it is only my opinion, I feel that Ms. Hughes should never be able to own or breed animals.

While she is subject to the supposedly "strict terms" of probation, what happens if these terms fall between the cracks? What happens when folks get too busy to follow up? Perhaps it will be business as usual.

To Ms. Hughes: How do you sleep at night?

Nancy Dively, Tarpon Springs

Re: Fatal jetty is hard to see story, Oct. 6

Clearwater jetty is also a hazard

Clearwater Pass has a jetty that was extended hundreds of feet into the gulf and cannot be seen on most dark nights when approaching from the south. The Clearwater harbormaster has failed to mount a light when requested by the marine advisory board, only to pass the buck to the U.S. Coast Guard.

This jetty has severely injured and I think killed boaters. If anyone else had extended that jetty, they would have been required to have a flashing light there.

Mark Smith, Clearwater

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Probation sentence for animal abuse was far too lenient 10/12/09 [Last modified: Monday, October 12, 2009 5:24pm]

    

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