Final update: Following the hearing, the court’s decision was to release all the dogs to the care of a south Florida rescue. It was the court’s decision that Animal Services did not prove their case, and the dogs were not declared dangerous. Though it was very hard for their loving family to surrender the dogs, they knew it was in everyone’s best interest. They are all safe, in homes or with foster families.
Update August 18: This Examiner attending the hearing in Tampa. The Hearing Officer, Autumn George, will render her decision in 10 days regarding releasing the dogs, declaring them dangerous or just euthing them, as requested by the petitioner. If it does not go in the family’s favor, and the dogs are not released with more reasonable fees, the case will proceed to a higher court. A fuller article with additional information will be released after that decision is rendered.
Update August 10: Hillsborough Animal Control is now attempting to collect $16,000 for the release of these dogs, dogs that they illegally acquired. The hearing will be at 1PM August 17, should you like to attend. Examiner is being told this is called ‘larceny by extortion.’ Please wear red if you support the dogs. The address for the hearing is at the end of this article.
An Animal Control Officer named Paris Dunkley, employed by Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center (HCAS) in Tampa, Florida, took possession of five dogs belonging to a local family on May 28. The ACO did this by shooting the dogs with tranquilizer darts through a fence outside the property. When questioned by a bystander as to whether or not she was measuring the dosage, the ACO replied, “no…”. When she was darting the dogs, Ms. Dunkley randomly chose five out of the 12 on the property, without any certainty if any of the dogs were involved in an incident which happened on that gated and locked property, two days beforehand.
HCAS has been contacted by this Examiner multiple times regarding this incident to get their side of the story, which is described in detail below, but has not returned any calls. The only reply for a request of information has been by email, from Loretta Magee, Field Supervisor, on July 17, who states,
“The individual(s) referenced have now reportedly acquired new legal representation. The matter is currently under review with the County Attorney’s Office, and all elements of due process will continue to be afforded.”
Remember that statement, “due process will continue to be afforded,” because it will reappear. So the unfolding of the case, which is now proceeding to court, must be told through testimony of eyewitnesses to the entire incident. The eyewitnesses were 19-year-old Sarah Martin and Ms. Jenn Kate, volunteers with 100+ Abandoned Dogs of Everglades Florida, based in South Florida. Ms. Martin had been a volunteer with the rescue longer than Ms. Kate. This YouCaring Fundraiser has been established to help offset any costs involved in the freeing of what’s become known in rescue circles as the “Hillsborough Five.”
According to Amy Roman Daniello, President and Founder of 100+, the rescue operation began when she saw a Facebook post from Sylvia Love. Sylvia’s dad, William Lowe, II, who lives in Riverview, Florida, had been hospitalized, and the family was reaching out to rescue, asking for help with their dad’s 13 dogs. They have no insurance, and any extra money was now going towards his mounting medical bills. The dogs belonged to their dad, who was not coming back to the property any time in the near future.
William “Buddy” Lowe III, Sylvia’s brother, lives on the property, caring for the dogs in his dad’s absence. Buddy is an adult, but has a learning disability. He is friendly and sociable, but it is apparent that he would not be able to comprehend the written documentation and intense pressure from HCAS employees he would face that day. Like many members of the public, he is also unaware of his personal legal rights, nor those held by his family. Rights which would soon be trampled into dust and ignored by public service employees of Hillsborough County.
In an interview today, July 26, Ms. Daniello explained to Examiner that,
“100+ didn’t want to take in any more dogs. Like every rescue, we are full. But I saw Taco’s haunted eyes and little white scruffy face, and I posted it, quickly getting a foster offer.”
Taco, a chihuahua mix, was one of three small dogs for whom Sylvia was trying to find rescue After agreeing to take in Taco, and possibly the other 2 small dogs, Ms. Daniello posted on a private Facebook page, open only to her rescue volunteers, looking for transport from Tampa down to South Florida. Sarah Martin and Jenn Kate stepped up to the plate.
They were given the address plus Buddy’s name and phone number. They were expressly told by Ms. Daniello, per Buddy’s instructions, Do Not Enter The Property. They were to call Buddy from the gate. They were not to open the gate for any reason. Buddy would come out and hand the dogs over the fence to the women. The women appeared to clearly understand these verbal instructions, and drove to the property on May 26.
In Ms. Kate’s statement, which mysteriously “disappeared” from the official HCAS record of the case, then, just as mysteriously “reappearing” sometime later, a statement which she had to recount and refile with an attorney after it’s initial “disappearance”, Ms. Kate’s sworn affidavit says,
“There were signs saying beware of dog and no trespassing. We did see that there was electrical wire running the perimeter of the property as well as on the inside of that gate.”
When they exited the car, neither Sarah nor Jenn were able to contact Buddy by phone. Standing outside the fence, a number of the dogs who had been roaming the fully enclosed, chained and gated property, approached the entrance to the gate and began barking. Sarah and Jenn conferred with Ms. Daniello, who, according to Ms. Kate’s affidavit, said they should “sit and wait while she was going to contact the son and daughter. The son (Buddy) appeared from the back of the property. He was very far back on the property (approximately 100 yards).”
And this is where the sworn statements from the two participants diverges. Sarah Martin now states that Buddy, carrying Taco in his arms, waved them in, which prompted her to open the gate and walk onto private property. However, in her original statement, and in a conversation she had with Ms. Daniello, and revealed as well in a conversation between Martin’s mother and an unknown individual, Sarah was well aware that she had, in fact, illegally trespassed onto private property, uninvited, “and she tells me she would do it again to save a life.”
Ms. Kate’s sworn statement says, “It was impossible for us to understand what he was saying between the dogs barking and the high level of traffic and [sic] main road. Sarah and I had entered the property WITHOUT permission from the son, which is trespassing.” Ms. Kate, being older than Ms. Martin, admits that she should have known better, and not entered the property, but went against her own judgement and instructions and followed Sarah in.
Ms. Daniello’s statement concurs with Ms. Kate’s. She told them “call from the gate, do not enter, and he will give you the dogs.” She told Sarah to not enter property, and to honk the horn, which was the direction she was given by Sylvia. Sylvia tells Examiner that sometimes, since the property is so large, that Buddy is unaware that there are people at the gate.
Ms. Kate and Ms. Martin then saw someone approaching them from the rear of the property. This was Buddy. As Buddy approached, holding Taco, he tripped and fell, losing his grip on the small dog. Taco was an “inside only” dog, had rarely associated with the other dogs in the home, and was very much unused to the clamor that was going on. He raced off.
It was then that Ms. Martin opened the chained-shut gate and walked on ahead, onto private property, followed by Ms. Kate, who turned to rechain the gate. The two women saw a number of the dogs approaching, noticing the strangers on their property, and two dogs began fighting with each other. Ms. Kate believes that, at that point, Buddy was telling them to leave the property. The women stopped walking. Ms. Kate was approached by one of the barking dogs, Ms. Martin by another.
Ms. Kate states that Ms. Martin turned back towards the gate, and at that point, one of the dogs latched onto Ms. Martin’s pants leg as she was going over the fence. Ms. Kate attempted to pull the dogs away from Ms. Martin, when one dog then turned and grabbed at Ms. Kate. The women became separated when Ms. Martin then jumped over the fence. Ms. Kate then backed through the gate and left the premises as well. Ms. Martin does have injuries to her lower extremities, as seen on the photos, but some of those injuries may have also been sustained when she jumped over the chain-link fence.
The two women immediately drove to the nearest hospital emergency room for treatment; Ms. Kate sustaining only minor injuries and scratches. According to her statement, Ms. Kate stayed with Ms. Martin for 21 hours.
The two were in constant contact with Ms. Daniello, from 100+, from that moment on. Ms. Daniello tells Examiner that, initially Ms. Martin agreed with Ms. Kate’s statement, that they had, in fact, trespassed. She admitted as much to her mother. Buddy’s statement also supported that claim. Please keep in mind an additional fact. The owner of the dogs was neither Buddy nor Sylvia. The owner was not on the premises, and was unaware of the events that were transpiring.
For reasons of her own, two days later, Ms. Martin reversed her position, claiming that they had been waved onto the property by Buddy. At that time, she also revealed the address of the home to HCAS, who immediately went to the residence and started randomly “darting” dogs, deciding they were “dangerous” and needed to immediately take possession of them.
According to Nancy L. Grier, Attorney for 100+, Florida law states that Animal Control cannot legally enter a person’s property and take possession of their animals without notifying the owner of the animals. Buddy was not the owner of the animals. His father, in the hospital, is their legal owner. Yet ACO Paris Dunkley forced Buddy to sign paperwork to turn over five dogs to HCAS, paperwork which he could not understand, actions which he could not legally authorize, and threatened him with police action if he did not comply. Crying, and under duress, he did as he was ordered by the woman in uniform.
In a statement on Facebook, anonymously provided to this Examiner, on March 13, Ms. Dunkley boasts “Gonna get my ‘geer’ on and do what I do best…piss people off and write some damn tickets and if I’m really annoyed by the situation I just may take your animal – (happy face emoticon) feeling excited.” Though this statement appears a few months before the events that transpired in May, it goes towards the mindset of this particular Animal Control Officer. On May 28 she certainly acted on those words.
According to 2015 Florida Statutes, under Torts, Damage by Dogs, Section 767.12 (1)(b), a dog shall not be declared dangerous if the threat, injury, or damage was sustained by a person who, at the time, was unlawfully on the property.
Perhaps someone tipped Ms. Martin off that her actions, as she first explained them, had been illegal. She was shown photos of all the dogs on the property, picking five out from what amounted to a photo lineup, as the dogs which had attacked her. Out of 11 large dogs, HCAS claims that Ms. Martin was able to competently single out five of them, while in the hospital, under medication, as the ones who attacked her.
This entire situation could have been handled more truthfully, and easily, if the story hadn’t changed in it’s telling. In addition to blaming the dogs, Ms. Martin is also accusing the rescue of ignoring her obvious injuries, having no compassion for what she sustained. In reality, Ms. Martin’s relatives demanded the rescue stop calling Ms. Martin, who was hospitalized for five days. Though 100+ has been slandered on Facebook in various ways, including the creation of a petition that voiced opposition for their perceived ‘failure’ to assist Ms. Martin and for not soliciting donations for Ms. Martin’s care, under Florida Statutes 496.413(1-3) it is unlawful to solicit donations for an individual without a trust account/court monitoring. Other rescues held fundraisers for Ms. Martin of their own volition. A short time after Ms. Martin was released from the hospital, she took a trip to Costa Rica.
In an interview with WSVN, Ms. Martin was of the opinion that none of this was due to any actions she had taken. In addition, though WSVN had witness statements from Jenn Kate, and an interview with Ms. Daniello, who both agreed that the two women had been told Do Not Enter The Property, only the opposing position, held solely by Ms. Martin, made air.
As Ms. Daniello states, “I tried to get a copy of the report from WSVN, but somehow it’s been erased from their files.”
Ms. Love, the daughter, tells Examiner that the entire situation,
“hurts the rescue and hurts me. I was just trying to help my dad. We don’t know how long he has, or if he’s going to make it.”
She was not on the scene when the situation played out that day; only her brother Buddy was there when the ACO came and began “darting” the dogs. Sadly, Taco, the little chi mix who was supposed to go to the rescue, was found a few days after the events transpired. He had crawled underneath their father’s pick-up truck and died. He had no marks on his body, he was not attacked by any of the dogs. Ms. Love believes he died from fright.
Sylvia’s dad does not know the dogs have been taken. She thinks that Buddy tripped over the dogs while carrying Taco to the two rescuers. Buddy has a bad knee, and one of his legs does not bend very well. Now the Hillsborough Five, Billy, Bullet, Frankie, Grasshopper, and Trigger, sit in Quarantine at the kill shelter. They won’t allow Sylvia to see them.
Sylvia believes that, based on what Buddy told her, their dad has also been affected by the onset of dementia. He had not taken the animals in for their state-mandated rabies vaccinations, which had expired. He may also have suffered a series of minor strokes, previous to his hospitalization.
According to Attorney Grier, HCAS was willing to allow the dogs to go to rescue, in exchange for $5500; the bounty had to be paid by July 14 or the dogs would be killed. That is an astronomical fee for a family to pay. And the amount due gets higher each day. At $20 per dog, per day, that’s $100 a day that HCAS wants to charge this family, who simply cannot afford it, in light of the medical bills coming in. Ms. Grier states that it was “unfair for AC to trample their rights. They took the dogs, without the owner’s permission, and did not let the family know where they were for several weeks. They did not adhere to due process in anything about how they acquired these five dogs, and HCAS is barred under 767.12 (1)(b) from declaring a dog dangerous if the victim was trespassing.”
HCAS is well aware that the family can’t afford the total bill, and offered them this option… choose which dog to save. Yes, a literal “Sophie’s Choice.” Would you be able to choose which of your family members to save, knowing the others would be killed? How can someone make that decision?
Ms. Grier, after communicating with HCAS, was told that “the County is concerned that the taxpayers would feel cheated if they waive the fee.” If you are a resident of Hillsborough County, 813-612-8443 is the number to call to let Scott Trebatoski, Department Director, know you won’t “feel cheated” if HCAS lets these dogs return to their family, for a nominal fee. The fee should include all necessary vaccinations and licensing, spay or neuter, but should not include any fees the county is charging to house the dogs. A cost that would never have been incurred in the first place, had due process been in effect. Should you like to contact Mr. Trebatoski by email, please use Trebatoskis@hillsboroughcounty.org. If you are not a resident of the county, please feel free to express your opinion to Mr. Trebatoski as well, using the same phone number and email provided above. He may be out of the office till August 10. If you need immediate action, please contact Lauryn Postiglione at Postiglionel@hillsboroughcounty.org, or 813-612-8430.
It is suggested that you also contact John Page, Operations Manager, at PageJ@Hillsboroughcounty.org until Mr. Trebatoski returns, or David Morton, Shelter Manager, at MortonD@Hillsboroughcounty.org, Frank Baker, Pet Resources Enforcement at BakerF@Hillsboroughcounty.org, Loretta Magee, Investigations Manager, at MageeL@Hillsboroughcounty.org and Carl Harness, Chief Human Services Administrator, at HarnessC@Hillsboroughcounty.org.
You can also contact the Hillsborough County City Commission to voice your concern. Please be polite, but keep in mind, this is not a singular incident. It has happened to others in the past. There is no reason why a branch of Florida’s public government should be allowed to disregard written city statues, at will. The law is the law; whether you are a private citizen or a public employee, you cannot pick and choose which laws you want to obey, and when. The phone number for the City Commission is 813-272-5660. Here is their official website, with links to each of the seven City Commissioners.
At what point is an adult responsible for their own actions? How can you deliberately penalize an innocent family for the illegal actions of another? Why should HCAS, a public arm of the Florida government, be allowed to act as body with their own set of rules, counter to how the laws of the State are actually written?
According to Ms. Daniello, she received texts and calls from Sarah, before they were cut off, saying, “I know I wasn’t supposed to go on property.” In speaking about the actions of Ms. Martin and Ms. Kate, Ms. Daniello says it best,
“In life you have choices. You illegally trespassed on property. You unraveled the chain, you went onto private property. I’m angry that the dogs are sitting in the shelter, upset that Ms. Martin was hurt. But she was an adult who lied. All this could have been resolved if she had just retracted her statement.”
If you can attend, here is the address for the Tampa hearing, scheduled for August 17.
Old Courthouse building
419 N. Pierce Street
Room # 101
Tampa, Florida 33602
You can subscribe to this Examiner here.