Dog debate continues on

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 10, 2021

Prosecutor, rescue group exchange words over dismissal of animal cruelty

Social media blew up after it was announced last week that charges were dropped against a man accused of multiple counts of animal cruelty.

The county prosecutor is saying there was not enough evidence to prosecute Ruben “Ted” Sprouse, while the animal group that took care of the animals is saying that the prosecutor is incorrect.

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The case began in June after Pitiful Paws, a non-profit private rescue group in Chesapeake, was alerted to a dog in need of rescue.

After investigating, they decided to approach the dog seller while in plain clothes and they did not mention they were part of a rescue group. They bought two puppies from Sprouse and said that one dog was in decent shape while the other would have died if they had left it behind. The seller also threw in an older beagle for free.

The group documented everything with their phones and then gave the information to county officials.

The case was taken to the Ironton Municipal Court on June 29, with Sprouse charged with 67 counts of animal cruelty, a second-degree misdemeanor.

“The Lawrence County Prosecutor’s Office has continued to conduct an investigation into the treatment of the animals located at Mr. Sprouse’s residence,” wrote county prosecutor Brigham Anderson, adding the investigation included communication and consultation with Lawrence County Animal Shelter employees trained to recognize animal cruelty and that the Lawrence County animal officials would have testified that the dogs were not abused and should not have been removed from the residence. “The Lawrence County Prosecutor’s Office was subsequently provided with photos of each and every dog at the time of their removal and said photos do not support a charge of Animal Cruelty for any animal removed.”

On Sept. 30, the case was dismissed and Pitiful Paws wrote they “were beyond appalled that the charges in this case were negligently dismissed and that false and misleading facts are being used to support that dismissal.”

The group wrote Lawrence County Humane Society (LCHS) was not present on scene, except for a “humane agent” who is also a detective for the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department and the LCHS gave the Pitiful Paws and other rescue groups the dogs after they were surrendered.

After the case was dropped, the humane society called Pitiful Paws and asked for the dogs back.

“Since there was a valid surrender agreement, we informed LCHS that would not be necessary,” Pitiful Paws said.

Another point of contention is a photo of a skinny looking rescued beagle sitting in the front seat of a car that was on social media and provided to The Ironton Tribune.

Anderson wrote that his office has photos and a video of the dog on the day it was removed from Sprouse’s property and “on that day, the dog’s ribs were not showing and it appeared to be otherwise healthy. We have since learned that certain medications and treatments, such as deworming, can cause a dog to lose weight and show ribs. At the time, that the dog was taken from Mr. Sprouse’s property, it did not appear in the same condition as it as appears on social media and the internet.”

Pitiful Paws disputed that, saying that photo was taken on the same day it was rescued as it was on its way to a foster home, as it has a green band with the dog’s case number on it and that the dog had not been given dewormer or any medicine at that time. The group said that the dog’s look was from “starvation/lack of nutrition and severe dehydration” and not caused by deworming.

“This false claim is an insult to our rescue and the professionals who actually examined these dogs,” the group said. “Internal parasites in general can cause either extreme bloating or loss of weight in pets. However, deworming an animal is not going to cause it to lose such an extreme amount of fat or muscle mass to the point that it is a walking skeleton.”

Brigham wrote that once his office has all the evidence, it became apparent they could not go forward with charges.

“As Lawrence County Prosecutor, I have the responsibility to review evidence and only seek convictions when supported by sufficient evidence,” Brigham said. “Although this decision will be questioned by members of the community, it is my belief based upon all evidence gathered in this case that justice required a dismissal of all charges. As county prosecutor, it is my responsibility to seek truth and justice in each and every case. I will continue to work each day to make Lawrence County a safer and better place to live and work.”

Pitiful Paws wrote that the prosecutor’s office “took the easy way out on a case that required doing hard work and expected the community to buy an absurd excuse. This is not truth or justice. We are deeply saddened and extremely disappointed in the Lawrence County Prosecutor’s Office.”

They also wrote that the prosecutor’s office could refile the charges.