(Updated, March 26, 10 a.m.) EAST PROVIDENCE — A city resident and owner of a local dog walking company based in East Providence has been charged with three counts of animal abandonment by the East Providence Police Animal Control Department.
Heather Shirley, 36, who’s last known address in city was 72 Ivy St., was formally charged this week with the offenses, East Providence Animal Control Officer Will Muggle said.
Ms. Shirley remains listed as the owner of the East Coast Dog Walking company located on Willett Avenue in Riverside. Former employees have distanced themselves from Ms. Shirley and made it clear they are no longer associated with the business, according to Officer Muggle.
Three cats were found to be abandoned in an apartment at the Ivy Street location. EPAC was alerted to the animals by the new tenants, who were taking over the residence formerly occupied by Ms. Shirley.
“Mac” is one of the cats to be found abandoned by its owner at an Ivy Street residence.
They told EPAC at least two cats were living in the basement of the house, exiting and entering through a broke window at ground level. Upon inspection, Officer Muggle said EPAC found two litter boxes filled with feces. One of the cats was covered in excrement as well as being very dirty, according to Officer Muggle.
The cats were also visibly malnourished. The third cat was found at the home a few days after the initial two were discovered.
The tenants, who had knew of Ms. Shirley prior to moving into the residence, told EPAC Ms. Shirley had told them the cats were “strays.”
The penalties for animal abandonment are up to 11 months in prison for each count, fines or community service.
Officer Muggle said this isn’t the first time Ms. Shirley has come under scrutiny by his department. In 2007, she was alleged to have also abandoned an animal, also a cat, but no formal charges were pressed.
East Providence Animal Control was also recently involved in a case of phony stray dog case similar to one it had worked on earlier this year.
The most recent event took place on Feb. 20 when a man brought a Rotweiler to the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals location in East Providence.
The man claimed to have found the dog “unrestrained/abandoned” under the highway underpass near 840 Warren Ave. The man told SPCA employees he was driving by that spot and saw the Rottie standing there on three legs and because no one was with the dog he turned around picked it up. The dog appeared to have only three legs due to a large bloody mass on one of its feet.
The SPCA, as it routinely does, contacted EPAC to investigate the matter. Officer Muggle said he was immediately “suspicious” considering where the dog was found and because his office had not been alerted especially with it allegedly having taken place at the heavily trafficked location.
Officer Muggle said he attempted to contact the man at the phone number he provided only to discover it belonged to a traveling nurse out of Westerly. He was told by the female who answered the call she knew no one by the man’s name.At the point, Officer Muggle contacted Barrington Police because the address the man left with SPCA was 122 Walsh Ave. in that town. He was told by BPD the residence did not exist.
Upon further investigation, Officer Muggle found the man to be a Warren resident, confirming the information with the Warren Police Department and Animal Control.Officer Muggle eventually located the man and after initially sticking with his phony story, later came clean. He and his son had had the dog since it was a pup, and the dog, “Apollo,” was about seven-years-old. The man said that the dog had been very thin for a number of years due to its severe hip dysplasia, and that he had spotted the growth, which finally prompted him to bring the dog to the SPCA, a couple months prior.
Due to the dog’s condition and because the man had been deceitful to the SPCA, he was charged.
“I think the problem some people are having in these cases is that they don’t have the money to provide sufficient care to an ailing pet or are afraid that if they seek help after allowing a condition to go untreated longer than they should have, that they will be prosecuted for animal cruelty by coming forward, when actually it’s quite the opposite,” Officer Muggle explained.
“If someone was to come forward looking for help with an ailing pet, and say ‘hey, I can’t afford to treat my pet. I need help’ or ‘Look it’s a hard decision to make but I think my pet is suffering and needs to be euthanized, but I can’t afford it’ or ‘I know I should have gotten my pet treatment sooner, but I couldn’t face that the pet may need to be put down’ animal shelter staff and veterinarians everywhere understand this. We face these problems every day,” he added.
“As long as a pet owner is seeking help and trying to do the best by the animal they won’t face charges,” Officer Muggle concluded. “Expenses, hard work, and maybe some difficult decisions, but never criminal prosecution. However, not coming forward and allowing the pet to suffer or dumping an animal off in the streets or at a shelter under false pretenses is an unacceptable methodology that is clearly irresponsible behavior and indicative of an irresponsible pet owner and will result in criminal and civil penalties.”