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Veterinary aide avoids jail time in Miss Harper case

Miss Harper, a 7-month-old pit bull whose ears

Miss Harper, a 7-month-old pit bull whose ears and hind right leg were cut off in an act of animal cruelty, is seen at a news conference in Huntington on Jan. 31, 2014. Photo Credit: Brittany Wait

A veterinary aide who cut off the hind leg of a dog was sentenced to 3 years' conditional discharge Friday in a Mineola courtroom, to the outrage of activists, including an SPCA official who tried to walk out before the judge had finished speaking.

Nassau SPCA head Bob Sowers called the judge a "disgrace" after Reginald Smith, 34, of Westbury left Nassau County Court, free to follow plans to move to Atlanta to be an Uber driver after pleading guilty in September to operating on Miss Harper, a pit bull mix, without a veterinarian license.

"Put somebody up there with a brain," Sowers said afterward of State Supreme Court Justice Angelo Delligatti.

Smith had faced up to 2 years behind bars for unauthorized practice of a profession, conspiracy and aggravated cruelty to animals.

In handing down a conditional discharge -- meaning Smith will not get time behind bars if he stays out of trouble -- Delligatti said he "abhorred" what happened to the dog but gave the defendant "slight credit for the fact that you were not an abuser of the animal."

Delligatti said he also took into account that it was Smith's first offense and that if he got probation, the terms would not be transferable to Georgia, where Smith's lawyer said he would start his new life.

The prosecutor with the state attorney general's office stood to object. "He deserves jail time," said Gail Heatherly. "Without him, this wouldn't have happened." The case inspired the Nassau County Legislature to approve an animal abuse registry last year.

Smith declined to speak at sentencing, and it's not exactly clear what led to Miss Harper's ears and leg being cut off.

He, his attorney and Heatherly declined later to comment.

Smith worked at the Animal Hospital of Elmont in July 2013 when he operated on the dog, according to court documents.

Sowers, whose agency rescued Miss Harper, said her stump was not closed up, exposing the bone and tissue. The dog, who has since healed after treatment, has been adopted by a Bellmore family.

Outraged at the sentence, Sowers attempted to leave the courtroom during the proceedings, but a court officer ordered him to sit down. He vowed to launch a letter-writing campaign and bring the dog to protests at the courthouse. Charges are pending against the previous owners, Lee Hughes of Westbury and Shawanna Hughes of Oyster Bay.

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