State AG: Three, including vet aide, charged with animal cruelty in Miss Harper pit bull case

<b> Jan. 31, 2014 </b>

Jan. 31, 2014

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Two Nassau residents and a veterinary assistant have been charged with crudely chopping off the leg and ears of pit bull puppy whose rescuers now call her Miss Harper, the state attorney general's office said Tuesday.

Lee Hughes, 39, of Westbury, and Shawanna Hughes, 37, of Oyster Bay, owned the puppy, part of a litter from their dogs, when the animal was seen last summer by Reginald Smith, 33, of Westbury, who worked at the Animal Hospital of Elmont, authorities said.

The three surrendered Tuesday morning and were arraigned after a monthslong investigation by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Nassau County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. They were charged with various counts of animal cruelty, practicing veterinary medicine without a license and conspiracy.

The three suspects have conflicting and changing accounts of what happened to the pit bull, then named She-Ra, authorities said.

At one point, Shawanna Hughes said she and Lee came back from a trip and found the puppy's ears "chewed off" and its leg taped up, according to the felony complaint. The puppy was taken to Smith, who charged several hundred dollars to amputate the leg when the veterinarian's office was closed, court papers said.

Investigators interviewed a "witness," who was not named in the complaint, but who took the puppy and surrendered it to a veterinarian in September.

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According to the witness, Shawanna Hughes wanted to give away a pit bull puppy that had "problems with its leg" because she and her husband Lee have a pending animal abuse case on another dog, the felony complaint said.

Also, the witness said, Shawanna Hughes wanted the dog out of the house because she would "get in a lot of trouble" if her probation officer saw the injured dog, according to court papers. She is on probation for DWI, a Schneiderman aide said.

Shawanna Hughes' attorney could not be reached Tuesday evening.

Lee Hughes said he never saw the puppy and had nothing to do with what happened, although phone records show calls were made from his mother's home to Smith, who lives several blocks away, the complaint said.

His attorney, Eliot Bloom of Williston Park, said his client is separated from his wife and was at an out-of-town funeral at the time. "When he returned, he was made aware by a phone call only that there was a medical condition on this dog that was not his and not in his custody," Bloom said.

Smith said the dog already had its leg amputated when it was brought to him to be bandaged, according to the court complaint.

Smith's attorney was not immediately available Tuesday night.

In August, Shawanna Hughes sent the witness several photos of the dog, including one with Lee and Shawanna Hughes' son holding the dog by her front legs, showing its amputation and cropped ears, authorities said.

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When the witness went to pick up the dog, Shawanna Hughes did not explain what happened to the leg, but said socks and rubber bands had initially been placed on it to prevent the puppy from scratching her cropped ears, the complaint said.

The witness turned the dog over to a veterinarian, who told investigators that the dog was in poor condition.

She had no skin covering the amputated area of the right leg, just protruding pieces of tissue and possibly bone, the complaint said. The veterinarian also said her left hind leg was infected and the left toes possibly partially amputated, the investigator said.

In addition, the puppy had several raised scars on the back of her neck, missing hair in a circular pattern on her left hind leg and other problems, the complaint said.

Miss Harper has become a cause celebre for indignant pet lovers since her plight was publicized last week by the Nassau SPCA and the state attorney general's office.

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The Nassau County Police Benevolent Association said Friday that it will donate as much as $5,000 to cover Miss Harper's medical care. After being cared for by veterinarians since September, the puppy is now up for adoption. Those interested may email

CORRECTION: Reginald Smith's position at the Animal Hospital of Elmont was incorrect in a previous version of this story.

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