Bob and Donna Cochran were both going through a severe bout of depression when their doctor recommended they get a dog.
"They are really a good antidepressant," Bob Cochran, 60, of Safety Harbor said Monday.
In October 2005, the Cochrans located a teacup chihuahua being sold by Vilisity Stow of Clearwater. Stow told them that the dog would get no bigger than 3 pounds and that they would receive the American Kennel Club papers in the mail authenticating the dog's breed. The Cochrans paid $500 for the chihuahua they named Yoyo. But those papers never came.
"(Stow) told us they were in the mail," Bob Cochran said Monday after testifying during a pretrial hearing in Pinellas County's courtroom No. 8.
Stow, 29, avoided 12 years in prison by agreeing Monday to pay $42,649.55 in restitution to 38 people who bought dogs from her, including Cochran. She also received three years of probation.
Her crime: claiming the dogs were purebreds when they weren't and not providing medical documentation.
Stow's no-contest plea also requires her to place an ad in the St. Petersburg Times apologizing and to pay $450 in court costs. She is banned from selling, breeding, brokering or dealing in dogs while on probation.
Stow was arrested Dec. 20 after authorities started getting complaints from her customers.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley demanded that Stow demonstrate she could pay the restitution amount before accepting the agreement. Stow's grandfather, who was in the courtroom, agreed to pay the restitution if an equity line of credit does not come through on Stow's home.
Adjudication will be withheld and Stow can apply to have the charges sealed from her record. She can have her probation reduced to 18 months once she meets all the elements of the agreement.
"It's a fair resolution," said Roger Futerman, Stow's attorney. "She's out of the dog business for good and has no intentions of selling them again."
Cochran said when he was trying to get the paperwork for the dog he purchased, Stow stopped answering her phone. The only way he could reach her was to use his neighbor's phone and pretend that he wanted to purchase a dog. Once Stow noticed who it was, she would hang up, Cochran said.
"It was so stressful trying to get the papers from her," Cochran said. "It was a real hassle. My wife was on sick leave at the time and we took all the money from our savings account to buy the dog. It was just awful."
Yoyo is now 10 pounds. And the Cochrans never received those AKC papers.
Gary White, an assistant state attorney, was pleased with Monday's resolution, noting that this was Stow's first contact with the criminal legal system.
"The spirit of the agreement is to try and make the victims whole," White said.
White thinks there may be hundreds of victims.
Christie Pump of St. Petersburg was one of those victims. She paid $595 for a papillon. She spent nearly $1,000 in vet bills before the dog died. Pump keeps the dog's ashes in a vase. "She did misrepresent herself," Pump said outside of courtroom No. 8. "No one should have to go through what we went through. No one."
Cochran wished another condition could have been added to the agreement for Stow. He wanted her to do 200 hours of community service at the local Humane Society.
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
BY THE NUMBERS
$42,649.55 Restitution to be paid to people who purchased dogs
38 Number of people who bought dogs from Stow
12 years of prison avoided with plea
$450 in court costs that Stow must pay
$594 paid for a supposed papillon, which died
$1,000 on vet bills for the dog that died