by Denise Carey-Costa
A series of photos and videos depicting two chained dogs living in deplorable conditions has sparked a nationwide firestorm of controversy. The photos and videos were shared on Facebook by a resident who also lived on the property where the dogs resided.
Both photos and videos depict a detestable case of callous neglect of the dogs named Chief and Jo-jo. In all images, the dogs are seen with heavy chains on their necks, tangled up around ladders, a slide, or around a tree trunk. In one photo, the dogs are seen lying on a pile of garbage. There is no visible shelter for either dog.
In a phone interview with Esperanza Senterfitt, she stated she resided on a shared property with the owners and their dogs on County Road 222 in Wildwood, Florida for nine months. During that time, she observed the dogs outside 24/7. Many times, their water bowls would not be refilled for days at a time. Packets of meat were left on the ground for the dogs to eat, but often rotted or became filled with maggots.
During the winter months, the temperatures dropped to 28 degrees and the dogs were still left outside.
The ironic thing is the dogs’ owner is the pastor of a local church. We tend to hold pastors and religious leaders to a higher standard of conduct.
How can a person who preaches love, kindness, and God’s compassion for all, calculatedly keep living creatures endlessly restrained on a chain, in a cesspool of a yard, witnessing their misery as they slowly deteriorate, yet, have no remorse? Contradiction.
Esperanza stated she had reached out to Sumter County Animal Services, Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, and the local SPCA countless times since February 2020. She was told repeatedly there was nothing that could be done.
Once the Facebook page with videos and photos posted, calls flooded into the Sheriff’s Office and Animal Control. Rescue groups showed up on the property with the intent to free the dogs from their miserable existence.
In looking over all Sumter County Sheriff’s Office records of calls dispatched regarding the dogs at County Road 222, Animal Control Officer Tuttle stated in multiple reports that the dogs’ living conditions were all acceptable. He also stated in his report that shade and shelter were provided by large oak trees.
The only thing he could cite the owners on was not having the dogs up to date on shots.
So multiple calls concerning the welfare of these dogs went unheeded, and the dogs were not removed or relocated to a more humane environment. Yet, Esperanza, the Good Samaritan who wanted nothing more than to help suffering animals, has been accused of trespassing and cyber-stalking for taking the photos and videos and posting on social media.
Detective Adam Dodge of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office was contacted via email. He responded by stating he put out a public statement on the county Facebook page addressing the situation and concerns:
On April 21st, The Sumter County Sheriff’s Office was made aware of potential abuse/animal neglect occurring at residential address along County Road 222 in Wildwood Florida. The Sumter County Sheriff’s Office responded to the residence and found that the dogs in question were not in the state/condition depicted in the videos (taken in February) and published to social media. The Sumter County Sheriff’s Office assumed responsibility for the case and assigned a Detective.
On May 1, 2020, a Detective with the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, accompanied the owner of the dogs in question to a local veterinarian who was able to independently examine the dogs. The veterinarian reported that Chief (fawn) and JoJo (brindle) were healthy and did not exhibit any signs of physical abuse or neglect. The veterinarian did indicate that JoJo should gain 2 pounds to be an optimal weight, but that there was no indication of either animals being deprived of necessities.
Detectives and deputies are in continuous contact with the animal’s owners and have frequently visited the property over the past two weeks. At each visit, the animals were observed to be healthy and provided for in accordance with Florida State Statues, as well as county ordinances.
The investigation into the abuse / neglect is ongoing with the continued collection of evidence regarding the condition of the animals in February when the original videos and photos were taken.
Chaining a dog was federally classified as inhumane over twenty years ago, but dogs across the nation are still being subjected to embedded collars, strangulation, starvation, or left to die in hurricanes and floods. Although two decades have come and gone since chaining was deemed inhumane, only 22 out of the 50 states have anti-tethering laws in place.
The USDA stated in their Federal Register Volume 1, Number 68 on July 2, 1996:
Our experience in enforcing the Animal Welfare Act has led us to conclude that continuous confinement of dogs by a tether is inhumane.” This philosophy is shared by animal behaviorists, veterinarians, the ASPCA, and various other scientific studies which have all proven that tethering and chaining a dog leads to aggression in the dog, injury to the dog due to a tether restricting the dog’s movements and causing them to become entangled.
If the USDA deemed canine tethering as cruel back in 1996, what has been done to alleviate their suffering since then? Why are dogs still suffering and dying at the end of chains? One would have to wonder why someone would go to the trouble of adopting dogs, naming them, then sentencing them to a life of misery at the end of a chain. Why not get a statue of a dog? There is no rational thought behind such actions.
Thankfully, there are many nationwide groups pushing for radical change to the practice of dog tethering. They are pushing for more intelligent and humane laws.
In Defense of Animals is taking a stand to end the abuse of chained dogs with their Federal Break the Chains Campaign. They have vowed to not stop until they break the chains to free all our nation’s dogs.
Other active and vocal groups include:
League of Humane Voters
Animal Welfare Task Force- Anti-Chain Division
It is time to bring an end to this barbaric practice once and for all
“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
*This story was first published in Pet Rescue Report.