SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - A Rowan County woman who sparked outrage when she posted pictures on Facebook of her dog with its mouth shut by duct tape was found guilty of animal cruelty in court Thursday.
Kimberly Ann Howell, 25, of Long Ferry Road, was charged in early October and was out of jail on $3,000 bond on the animal cruelty charge and failure to appear for outstanding traffic charges.
She was sentenced in court to 45 days suspended sentence, 18 months of probation. The judge also assigned 36 hours of community service and said that he would prefer if she did that part of the sentence at Animal Control. Her lawyer first said they would appeal the ruling, but Howell withdrew the appeal, saying, "I'll take it."
Investigators say someone saw the pictures of the young mixed breed dog, named Leah, with her mouth taped shut on Howell's Facebook page with the caption "LOL." The pictures were reported to the Rowan Sheriff's Office.
Howell told investigators that she did it because her dog was barking, but WBTV obtained a screenshot of the original post with the photos.
"I warned her," Howell wrote with the photos. "I told her I was going to teach her not to bite the baby again even play biting."
Howell said she couldn't even keep the tape on the dog for five minutes.
Detective R.C. Barkley began an investigation. According to the report, when detectives visited Howell's home they were met by her boyfriend who said that he knew it wasn't a good idea to tape the dog's mouth shut.
Howell told investigators that it was not "a big deal," and that the dog "was not physically hurt."
Howell said that she removed the tape immediately after posting the pictures.
In court on Thursday, Detective Barkley said that Howell and her boyfriend both said at the time that Howell put the duct tape on the dog's mouth because Howell "thought it would be funny."
Barkley also said that there were two additional pictures taken by Howell that were not posted on Facebook. Those pictures showed Howell's seven month old daughter petting the dog while the dog's mouth was duct taped.
"It didn't hurt her, she just didn't like it," Howell said in court.
Judge Kevin Eddinger called it a "callous act."
In court Howell told the judge that she loved the dog as much as she loved her own child and that the dog was like a child to her. During cross examination the prosecutor asked Howell if she would ever duct tape her child's mouth closed. Howell paused, and said no.
According to the report, Howell seemed more upset about rude comments people were making about her on Facebook than about what happened with her dog.
"Wow ok maybe I should of said I was joking when posting that," Howell wrote on Facebook. "But honestly though people would know better anyone who spend (sic) a week at my house would see how spoiled and loved my dog is. Anyways guess I really didn't think through but anyone who knows me knows when I got Leah she [was] skin and bones how (sic) that animal abusee (sic)."
Howell continued to post online, posting a long message on her Facebook page following the incident.
"I have made my mistakes in life too and believe me either I've paid for them or am still paying for them. But to call me an animal abuser or child abuser that's so not true," she wrote.
MOBILE USERS: Click here to see photos that Howell posted online
According to her post, Howell missed court on a traffic charge and had a warrant taken out on her. She said she has been trying to "turn myself in ever since Friday afternoon."
"Lesson learned and lesson learned that people are going to assume what thy (sic) want about you. Even if they have never met you," she wrote. "Anyone who knows me knows I am a nice and very forgiving person so to all th (sic) people saying things about me and u don't even know me I forgive."
"I'm just almost at the point in tears that people are so mean. And I respect that people are serious about animal abuse, they should be," she continued. "But I would never abuse my dog. Sad part is people who have never met us are saying different but my dog as happy and playful as can be."
"I never dreamed human beings could be so cruel and put people they have never met down," Howell wrote. "My dog is past the point of thinking she is a dog though she goes outside to excessive (sic) and use the bathroom that's it other then that she stays inside with us following all day long she refuses to be left out and makes it a point that she should be apart of every moment of everyday if it's just eating lunch or dinner or taking a nap on the bed with us.
Howell says when she first met the dog, she was in a cage, wanting to get out.
"I told her that I would be back to get her and give her a good home and I kept my word and she's been happy every since," she wrote. "We are all human and no one gives u a hand book about life u learn as u go by making mistakes."
Howell's boyfriend said that the incident had spun out of control because of the post on social media.
"The dog is in perfect health, I mean there's nothing, as you can see she's far from abused, I'm an avid animal lover and I've had 10-12 rescue dogs over the last couple years," John said. "There was a lot of backlash out of this, people took it out of context, I mean it was a bad decision on her part, she shouldn't have posted it, the tape wasn't on the dog longer than two minutes, it shouldn't have been done it was just a bad judgment."
Jamie Stivers of Rowan County Animal Control says duct taping a dog's mouth can lead to serious health consequences and that there are much better options.
"Either purchase proper muzzles, they have different types, some that are soft, some that are plastic," Stivers said. "The best alternative for any behavior modification type issues that you are having would be to get a trainer."