Two former dog owners each pleaded guilty to three felonies Tuesday in the botched amputations on a pit bull puppy, which later became a poster child for fighting animal abuse in Nassau County, officials said.
Shawanna Hughes of Oyster Bay and her estranged husband, Lee Hughes, of Westbury, admitted to two counts of unlicensed practice of veterinary medicine and aggravated animal cruelty when they took the dog, Miss Harper, to a veterinary office worker in 2013 instead of a licensed veterinarian.
The contradictory accounts of how the dog was injured have not been clarified in the case, but Miss Harper ended up with her ears and a hind leg cut off, and with bone and tissue exposed.
Under the plea bargain, Shawanna Hughes is expected to get a year in jail and Lee Hughes 6 months and 5 years’ probation when they are sentenced May 17 by state Supreme Court Justice Angelo Delligatti in Mineola, attorneys said.
Lee Hughes’ attorney, Eliot Bloom of Williston Park, said his client was separated from his wife and living elsewhere during the puppy’s initial trauma that led to the botched amputations.
“I just don’t think he realized how serious it was,” Bloom said of the initial injuries.
The attorney said he did not know why his client did not take the dog to a veterinarian. After the puppy was taken to the veterinary worker, Reginald Smith, Lee Hughes and his son were photographed holding the puppy, its amputated leg visible.
Shawanna Hughes’ attorney, Lori Golombek of Westbury, said she could not immediately comment.
Miss Harper’s plight convinced the Nassau County Legislature to approve a registry of those convicted of animal abuse, which now includes Smith.
The Miss Harper case is the second dog-abuse case in which the Hugheses have pleaded guilty. Another pit bull mix they owned, Snowball, was found with signs of abuse, including a broken leg that had to be amputated and a neck wound that got so infected it was hampering the dog’s breathing.
The Miss Harper abuse came to light after Shawanna Hughes asked someone to take the dog because she would “get in a lot of trouble” if her probation officer saw its injuries, according to court papers filed by the state attorney general’s office. She was on probation after driving while under the influence of drugs.
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. Sometime later, they told investigators, 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.
Delligatti set off a storm of protests from animal lovers in November when he did not give any jail time to Smith, of Westbury, who tended to the kennels and did other work at the Animal Hospital of Elmont. He got 3 years’ conditional discharge but had faced up to 2 years behind bars on charges of unauthorized practice of a profession, conspiracy and aggravated cruelty to animals.