Animal advocates are criticizing a Florida judge who ruled that a man could regain custody of his puppy even after he was caught on camera abusing her.
An anonymous neighbor filmed Matthew Tanner Long, 20, of Jacksonville, Florida, slapping a puppy named Fiona in the face, then roughly carrying her around by her neck. Local animal shelter Pet Rescue North posted the video on Facebook on March 11.
Long had to pay a $505 fine for animal cruelty, according to First Coast News, and Jacksonville Animal Care and Services took possession of Fiona.
But multiple local news outlets reported this week that Judge Gary Flower has returned Fiona to Long. A spokesman for Flower’s office told WJXT that Fiona was given back to Long under the conditions that he pay the city $1,015 for boarding costs, attend anger management classes, go to obedience training with the dog and write a letter of apology to his pet.
Mary Ann Jacob, a Pet Rescue North board member and foster coordinator, called the ruling “terrible.”
“He should not have the dog back,” she told HuffPost. She added that she fears not only for Fiona’s well-being, but also for the welfare of other dogs that live in the home and belong to Long’s roommates.
Pet Rescue North said on Facebook that Flower’s ruling was on May 1, but it’s unclear exactly what date the puppy was returned to Long. Neither Flower’s office nor Jacksonville Animal Care and Services immediately responded to a request for comment.
News4Jax reports that multiple neighbors expressed concern when they saw the puppy back in Long’s possession.
Long’s defense attorney, Lee Lockett, said in an interview with First Coast News that he believed the ruling was fair. He characterized Long as a normally law-abiding man who cares about his dog but briefly “lost his temper” when the puppy had an accident inside the house.
“He loves Fiona, he always has,” Lockett said, adding that some media outlets have incorrectly characterized the video as showing Long “choking” Fiona. Lockett says Long was just holding the puppy off the ground by her neck.
Jacob said she wants to see Florida adopt stricter animal cruelty laws in general. Ideally, she said, any animal cruelty would be a felony.
“I’m so tired of people that neglect their animals and abuse their animals getting a slap on the wrist,” she said.