Pasco woman who couldn't afford vet gets six months' house arrest

Published April 27, 2013

NEW PORT RICHEY — Tammy Brown will pay for not getting her dog Harley the medical care he needed.

Brown, who was convicted last month of animal cruelty, was sentenced Friday to six months of house arrest, followed by three years of probation. She must perform 300 hours of community service and pay more than $1,000 in costs relating to the case.

And Circuit Judge William Webb imposed a special restriction:

"I don't want you to own any animals," Webb said. "Not even a goldfish."

Brown has spent the past 36 days in jail, after she was remanded to custody pending her sentencing hearing.

Pasco Animal Services officer Robin Long took Harley in 2011. Harley had large tumors that Brown said would grow, pop and reappear. He also had other issues: pus coming out of his eyes and cracked, bleeding skin. He had heartworms and ear mites.

Long said Harley couldn't stand up without support.

"It was deplorable, and I was in tears," she said.

Harley, 14, was put down.

Brown, 47, of Moon Lake said she tried to treat Harley's ailments with an over-the-counter animal skin ointment, but she didn't have the money to take him to a vet. Brown, who has degenerative bone disease and hypertension, lives off her monthly $508 disability check.

Her attorney, public defender Willie Pura, argued that she may have been neglectful, but she wasn't intentionally cruel.

"I respectfully ask for probation, and house arrest if you will," he said. "She's not charged with doing something. She's charged with not doing something."

Webb noted that Harley's health problems were so serious that the jurors had to turn away from the photos that were shown at the trial.

"He had an ear infection so severe and so painful it took years to develop," Webb said. "Harley was in pain and suffering for years."

Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis, who generally handles first-degree murder cases, argued for a harsh punishment. He brought up Brown's 11 prior arrests on charges ranging from domestic battery to marijuana possession. Brown does not have any previous felony convictions.

"(The court) can now keep her incarcerated or send her to prison," he said. "With her record, she obviously has not learned how to be a productive member of society."

Halkitis challenged the defense's description of Brown as a poor but well-meaning dog owner. Authorities have said Brown should have turned to a nonprofit animal group or rescue for help if she couldn't afford veterinary care.

"We're looking at someone who is not Mother Teresa here," Halkitis said. "That she's just a negligent person and poor people can't own dogs in Pasco County — nothing is further from the truth.

"I would suggest that you punish her with what the law suggests," he told the judge.

A presentencing investigation by the State Attorney's Office recommended a sentence similar to what Webb gave her.

"I certainly can understand the state's position that you deserve every day of incarceration for a year," the judge told Brown. "I have to question your sincerity at this point. My concern is that you're not really concerned."

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Halkitis asked Brown if she had learned anything from her incarceration, and she said she had. She also told the judge that she loved animals and that she had no excuses for her behavior. She smiled at her daughter when she was led out of the courtroom.

Pura said he plans to appeal the felony conviction with the hope of getting the charge reduced to misdemeanor neglect.