Beaten dog on the mend, culprit still on the loose


Vernon Sawyer, director of Alachua County Animal Services, is shown Tuesday with a lab-mix that was beaten out in the open in front of children at the Polos apartment complex on Sept. 12.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 5:32 p.m.

The dog that was brutally beaten in front of three children at the Polos apartment complex in Gainesville last week is recovering, but Alachua County Animal Services still doesn't have any solid leads on the man who abused her.

The children — ages 9, 10 and 12 — were playing outside on Thursday when they saw a man who was walking the dog choke her with the leash. He then removed her collar, which had a metal buckle, and beat her with it.

The 12-year-old told the man he needed to take care of the dog, after which the man took off, leaving the animal behind. The girl's family called Animal Services, which took the dog to get emergency care.

Almost a week later, the dog is in the medical wing of the Animal Services complex recovering from a deep gash in the back of her head, a fracture of the frontal part of her skull and bruises on her stomach and face.

Workers there have not named the dog, and its age is undetermined. But despite the abuse, the canine appeared not to be skittish around humans.

"It's amazing" how friendly she is, given what happened to her, said Animal Services Director Vernon Sawyer. "Dogs are so forgiving."

Sawyer gently looped a red leash over her head Tuesday morning, careful to avoid the stitched-up gash on her head, and took her outside for a few minutes.

"Hey, tough girl," an Animal Services officer said, greeting the dog with a smile while Sawyer scratched her affectionately behind the ears.

It will probably take a couple weeks for the dog to recuperate, Sawyer said, but he hopes to find a foster home for her soon where she can heal.

Sawyer said he hasn't noticed any obvious behavioral problems, so he thinks the dog will be eligible for adoption once she gets better. Sawyer has already heard from several people who are interested in giving her a permanent home.

Some people have also called offering donations for her care. Her veterinary costs already total $900, Sawyer said. Anyone interested in donating can call Animal Services at 264-6870.

Sawyer has also talked to a few people who wish to offer a reward for anyone with information on the suspect. He suggested they contact the Gainesville Police Department.

GPD described the suspect as a white male between 5-foot-10 and 6 feet tall with brown hair, a medium build and a tattoo between his shoulder blades. Anyone with information on the suspect may call the police department at 955-1818.

"These dogs just kind of look at you like, 'What?' " Sawyer said. "If they could talk, things would be so much simpler."

The beaten dog was one of several animal cruelty cases Sawyer and his team saw last week.

Another dog was brought in on Sept. 10 with much of the skin burned off his back, apparently by some kind of chemical.

While the beaten dog looked up calmly when Sawyer walked over, this one growled when he came to his cage.

The dog lay on the ground, peering up from within the plastic cone encircling his head, which kept him from licking the medicine off the wounds on his back.

A veterinarian shaved off a broad swath of his fur to treat the wounds and even had to cut off the dying skin in some places so the skin underneath could heal. His skin was raw — pink in some spots and red in others. It will take months for him to heal, Sawyer said.

"Just like burn patients, he's in a tremendous amount of pain," Sawyer said.

The staff won't be able to determine whether the dog has any behavioral issues until he has recovered, but Sawyer said it is a good sign that he wasn't trying to charge at the cage. His growling, he said, seemed more like a warning to stay away because he wasn't feeling well.

Animal Services could not reveal certain information about the case because it is an open investigation. Workers sent samples from the dog's wounds for analysis to determine what caused the burns.

The agency contacted the Humane Society of the United States about this burn case and learned the organization has seen similar cases involving both chemical spills and severe sunburns.

Acting Field Supervisor Lin Santerfeit said Animal Services has seen four such burn cases so far in 2013 — more than Animal Services has ever seen in one year.

Sawyer said the severity of the latest burn case and the case of the dog beaten at The Polos makes them stand out from others he has seen in his eight years with Animal Services. Both cases could lead to felony-level charges, he said.

"These two cases are the worst cases I've seen since I've been here," he said. "You wonder what is in these individuals that makes them do these things to these animals."

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gainesville.com.

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