A Covesville man will spend a month in jail; pay more than $3,000 in fines, court costs and restitution; and be prohibited from owning any companion animal after an Albemarle County District Court judge found him guilty of animal cruelty charges.
Judge Robert H. Downer Jr. convicted Eric F. Johnson on Wednesday of one count of animal abuse and two counts of depriving animals of food and water. He had been found guilty of animal cruelty for similar actions in 2006 in Nelson County.
Missy Vaclavicek testified that she was among neighbors who called Albemarle animal control Jan. 7 when they saw Johnson’s three dogs tethered in his backyard in temperatures estimated by witnesses to have been in the teens.
“The polar vortex was coming and I was concerned about the dogs being outside,” Vaclavicek, a former county animal control officer, testified.
Animal control officer L. Crickenberger testified that, when he arrived around 11:30 a.m., the dogs did not have food or shelter and the one bowl of water in the yard had frozen over. One of the dogs, Precious, was pregnant. Tickles, a 7-month-old puppy without a collar, was tied by the neck to a tree stump with a short, matted chain too short to allow free movement.
Witnesses testified that Johnson brought his dogs into the house at night and chained them outside during the day when his girlfriend and he went to work and his children were in school. Bill Wells, a friend, testified he often came to check on the animals at Johnson’s request and did so that day.
Crickenberger testified that a friend of Johnson’s came to check on the animals as they were being seized and prior to Crickenberger making contact with the owner.
Officers seized the animals and took them to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Precious and a male named Chaos were considered “healthy and happy,” according to testimony from Kristen Scheller, the SPCA’s vet, who treated the animals. Tickles was considered healthy, but thin.
“You shouldn’t be able to see a dog’s ribs,” she told the court.
Scheller said it would be difficult to estimate how long the dogs would need to be exposed to the cold weather before dying of hypothermia, but estimated that it would require several days of being in the elements.
She said that Precious’ puppies likely would have died in the cold had the pregnant dog whelped outside in those temperatures.
Johnson also was found guilty Wednesday of not having county dog licenses or vaccinations for the three dogs. Downer sentenced him to a year in jail, with 11 months suspended for cruelty for the method by which he had tethered Tickles and the lack of water, food and shelter.
Court records show Johnson was not fined for cruelty, but was fined $680 on the other charges. He must pay $476 in court costs and was ordered to pay the SPCA $1,875 for medical care and expenses for housing his dogs after officers seized them.
Downer’s order that Johnson not possess any companion animal will, under Virginia law, prevent him for being caretaker for any dog, cat, “nonhuman primate, guinea pig, hamster, rabbit not raised for human food or fiber, exotic or native animal, reptile, exotic or native bird, or any feral animal.”