ST. LOUIS • A woman who said she was only trying to return a dog to her ex-husband was found guilty Thursday of misdemeanor animal abuse of the pit bull mix puppy, which ended up dragged nearly to death while tied to a pickup.
The conviction of Benetta Johnson, 41, in a bench trial was based on her failure to properly care for and control the animal.
Johnson, of East St. Louis, was almost immediately sentenced by St. Louis Associate Circuit Court Judge Theresa Counts Burke to two years of probation and 150 hours of community service. She also was banned from caring for or owning pets for the next two years and was ordered to donate $250 to the Humane Society and take an animal care class. If Johnson fails to meet terms of probation, she would have to serve one year in jail.
No one accused Johnson of knowing that “Vick” would be dragged underneath her ex-husband’s pickup and trailer Nov. 21.
Her ex-husband, Victor Washington, had given the dog to her 5-year-old daughter. But Johnson thought the animal was sick, and wanted to return him. She said her daughter was afraid of dogs, and that she was frustrated Washington did not return her calls and texts.
In testimony Thursday during Johnson’s bench trial, she said she and her son had also knocked on Washington’s door.
She told her son to put the dog in the bed of Washington’s parked pickup, but the teen worried that it would jump out and get hurt or run away, so he opted to tie him to the trailer hitch.
After he told Johnson, they circled the block, waited, then drove away, leaving Vick in temperatures that dropped to the low 40s. The dog was already underweight and afflicted with intestinal parasites.
Washington, a landscaper, was asleep at the time and said that Johnson never told him she had left the dog. She also did not leave a note.
Before leaving his home near Virginia Avenue and Interstate 55 the next morning, Washington checked his truck and trailer, as verified by a security video. But he did not spot the dog and had no idea what was happening until a driver on Interstate 55 began honking and gesturing for him to pull over.
When defense lawyer Thomas Gilliam asked Johnson in court if she intended for Vick to get hurt, she responded, “Never in a million years.” She repeated that phrase, then broke down sobbing.
Under questioning by Assistant Circuit Attorney Anna Kratky, Johnson took responsibility for what happened and said she had made a bad decision.
Medical care for the dog, later renamed Trooper by the Humane Society, cost more than $50,000, officials said. Debbie Hill, a vice president of the society, said he is now largely recovered, is energetic and “loves pretty much everybody.”
Kratky argued for probation, a Humane Society donation, 100 hours of community service and roughly 48 days of jail time, spread out over six months of weekends.
Burke balked at the jail time, saying it sounded as if prosecutors were punishing Johnson for taking the case to trial. Kratky said she thought jail time was the only way Johnson would appreciate her actions.