Dog owners sentenced to jail time

LAWRENCEVILLE - Two Norcross men were found guilty on 36 counts of animal neglect Tuesday and will spend about six months in jail after their pit bulls were found to have inadequate food, water, shelter and sanitary living conditions.

Raymond Barry Washington, 25, and John Holmes, 21, were both sentenced by Gwinnett Recorder's Court Judge Patricia Muise to 10 days for each count and a $5,000 fine, which will be suspended if the defendants reimburse animal control for the cost of keeping and treating the dogs.

Prosecutor Rosanna Szabo said that the two men's jail time would amount to about six months in prison and that the fine would probably be about the same as the cost of reimbursing animal control.

Muise also released control of the dogs to Gwinnett County Animal Control and said that those dogs with an agreeable temperament could be put up for adoption and the remaining would have to be euthanized.

When issuing the guilty verdict, Muise said the dog's shelter was "outrageous" and the food situation was "absurd."

"I dare say you folks wouldn't like it if that's all we fed you," Muise said to the defendants.

During the sentencing portion of the trial following the verdict, the prosecution called several witnesses that tried to show that the dogs were involved in fighting.

Melinda Merck, a doctor of veterinary medicine who was on scene with animal control when the dogs were impounded on July 12, said six of the adult pit bulls' ears were clipped in a abnormal manner that was often seen on fighting dogs, and that one of the buildings on the defendant's property appeared to have a fighting area in it.

Muise also said when issuing the verdict that she had a "difficult time believing that it was only a breeding business because nobody in their right mind would buy a dog in that condition."

But the two defendants spoke for the first time during sentencing and vehemently denied fighting the dogs, as well as admitting some their shortcomings as owners.

"We never, ever used these dogs to fight," Holmes told the judge. "We did the best we could, and maybe there were some shortcomings, but you don't know everything when you start a business."

"I never intended in any way to hurt these dogs," Washington said, but admitted there were times he was "probably a little over (his) head."

Muise heard the defendants pleas and when sentencing the two men said, "It may very well be that you have a lot of heart, but the reality is that all these dogs were sick, and the reality is you couldn't take care of these dogs."

The two men had warrants taken out on them last week for six counts of misdemeanor cruelty to animals, but Holmes' defense attorney Brian Whiteside said the prosecution indicated they would drop those charges.

"These two men have already been punished enough," Whiteside said.

During the trial, animal control Officer Joseph Brooks said the dogs lacked adequate shelter and their water was green in parts.

Merck told the court about the various hookworms, mange and other ailments that the dogs suffered from in addition to signs of starvation in some of the animals.

The veterinarian that the defendants took the dogs to, Wayne Rush of the DeKalb Animal Hospital in Tucker, said he thought the men owned fewer than 10 dogs based on the number of visits the defendants made to the clinic.

Rush said when Washington did bring dogs in, he seemed concerned about their care and let the veterinarians do the necessary tests and bought the prescribed medicines for the dogs.

Rush said he felt their biggest problem was a lack of record keeping and continuity of care for the dogs. Rush added that Washington appeared to learn how to care for the dogs better and that it was definitely an education at first.

The two defendants were also arrested on July 12 on drug-related charges, as was a third man, Tyrone Laval Drayton, 19.

Washington and Holmes were the only two charged with animal neglect, however, because their names were on a United Kennel Club certificate as owners of DGB Kennels.