Dog abuse suspect acquitted by judge

Published 10:28 am Friday, May 19, 2017

A woman accused of abusing her dog was acquitted of the charge after a hearing Wednesday in Warren County Justice Court.

Justice Court Judge James Jefferson said he could not find sufficient evidence to convict Melissa Moffett of animal abuse in the death of her dog, Layla.

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Dianne Gargaro filed an affidavit against Moffett charging her with animal abuse on March 31 after she was asked by Stephanie and Samantha Brewer, to whom Moffett gave the dog, told her about the dog’s condition and asked her to help pay the cost of treating the animal and offering emotional support.

Gargaro testified she did not personally see the animal, but was provided pictures of Layla taken by the Brewers when Moffett brought the dog to them March 31.

Samantha Brewer said Moffett brought the dog to them saying she was unable to care for the animal and could not afford a veterinarian to treat it, adding she took pictures of the dog as she lay on the backseat of Moffett’s car.

Dr. Lynette Goodwin, a veterinarian at Woodland Animal Clinic in Vicksburg, who saw Layla when she was brought to the clinic, testified the dog was unable to walk and laid on its side.

Goodwin said the dog was dehydrated and suffering from septic shock because of a severe internal infection. Goodwin also said an autopsy of the animal after its death showed it had no food in its digestive system.

When asked by county prosecutor Ricky Johnson if the infection could have been detected by Moffett, Goodwin said, “I think any reasonable person who gave food and water to a dog would have noticed something. …. If a dog is not eating or drinking, something is wrong.”

Moffett told Jefferson she did not abuse her dog. She said she had been having family medical problems, taking a child to therapy, adding she had been traveling back and forth to Jackson, and had recently got her father out of a nursing home.

When the dog became sick and stopped eating, she said, she took it to Stephanie Brewer, because she knew Brewer was involved with animal rescue and believed she would know what to do. She said she tried calling a vet before taking it to the Brewers’ but no one answered the phone at the animal clinic.

“I do have too much on my plate,” she said. “(But) I did not starve my dog.

Moffett said she had rescued the dog and had it for four years. She said she kept up with the animal’s shots and medication for worms.

“I’m not one to be cruel to animals,” she said.

She tried to feed the dog eggs and give it water, but the dog would not eat.

“Everything I fed her, she threw up. I did not intentionally try to hurt her,” she said. The change in the dog’s condition, she said, occurred over two to three days. Before that, she said, the dog had been healthy.

“I tried to do the very best I could,” Moffett said. “I didn’t have the money to take her to the vet. I did not wait four years to starve her.”

In his decision, Jefferson, who said he was an animal lover, cited Moffott’s personal problems and her apparent inability to pay for a vet, saying he “could not in all good consciousness” rule that the dog was abused.

“All I can say is it’s a sad situation when there are all these resources in Vicksburg people can go to even when they can’t afford to pay to help their animals,” Gargaro said. “There is no excuse for anyone not to get help.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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