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What is the legal precedent for law enforcement taking custody of animals?

Posted at 6:55 PM, May 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-12 18:59:17-04

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Lee County community members are still reeling after a viral video showed a man allegedly beating his dog outside of a RaceTrac in South Fort Myers. On Thursday, a judge ruled that the dog, a two-year-old pitbull named Sheba, would be in the temporary custody of the Sheriff's Department.

Sheriff Carmine Marceno hailed that ruling as a victory.

“Today, we prevailed,” says the Sheriff.

Sheba's owner admitted to hitting the dog in court. The Sheriff says that the most important thing was that the dog was protected.

“It’s not allowing that animal to go back into the environment where the animal can be abused again," says Sheriff Marceno.

But what does the law say about scenarios like these?

“For someone who has been cruel to an animal, that animal can be taken away from them and they can be forbidden from ever having another animal, either for a certain space of time or what the judge should determine,” says FGCU law professor, Pam Seay.

“Now that it is in the custody and control of the sheriff’s department, the sheriff can then take it to the animal control and attempt to have him adopted. People can request to adopt the dog,” explains Seay, about the future of the dog.

Gary Willoughby deals with these types of adoptions every day at Gulf Coast Humane Society - and that video of Sheba makes his stomach turn.

“To have that level of anger towards an innocent animal is obviously hard to watch,” says Willoughby.

“Obviously for this dog, there are going to be many families out there for this dog that any rescue group will help find.”

You can find more resources on animal abuse on the Lee County Animal Cruelty Task Force by clicking here.