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Guilty as charged

JACKSON – While they dodged an active jail sentence after their dog died from heatstroke, a Rich Square couple were barred from owning another animal during a proceeding held here Thursday in Northampton County Criminal District Court.

Kenneth and Chekila Stephenson were found guilty on cruelty-to-animals charges stemming from the death of their 2-year-old black lab, Molly, in August of last year. PETA fieldworkers discovered the dog’s dead body tied up and lying in a shallow dirt hole that she’d apparently dug in a desperate and failed attempt to escape the heat.

PETA officials said this wasn’t the first time they’d tried to help the suffering dog and prevent her from dying.

“Some people just don’t need animals,” District Count Judge Vershenia B. Moody said from the bench as she handed down a sentence barring the Stephensons from owning, possessing, residing with, or caring for animals.

Moody also ordered the couple to pay $1,100 each in court fines and costs and placed both under supervised probation for 12 months.

The Stephensons were sentenced to 45 days in jail, but that was suspended.

In the year before Molly’s death, PETA staffers said they provided her and the other dogs in the Stephensons’ custody with doghouses and straw bedding to give them some protection against the winter cold and gave Molly anti-flystrike ointment to keep her ears from being eaten away in summer, deworming medication, and more.

During virtually every visit, the animals were found without such basic necessities as water and food, and they were often so entangled in tethers that they could barely move more than a few inches, according to PETA.

On one visit, a staffer noticed that Molly was suffering from a dangerous uterine prolapse, which PETA’s veterinary clinic treated free of charge. Afterwards, according to PETA, the Stephensons did not allow Molly indoors to heal after this emergency surgery.

“While the Stephensons’ conviction is only right, it can’t undo the immense suffering that Molly and the other dogs endured,” says PETA Senior Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch. “This case is exactly why PETA is pushing for an area ban on 24/7 tethering of dogs, which leads to neglect, isolation, and in cases like poor Molly’s, prolonged suffering and a painful death.”

According to PETA, dogs chained outdoors around the clock spend their entire lives in the same few square feet of space where they are forced to eat and sleep near or even in their own waste. Chaining dogs deprives them of the social interaction that they crave as pack animals, which can make them aggressive and nearly three times as likely to bite.

Furthermore, PETA says dogs left outside in the summertime are often eaten alive by flies, fleas, mosquitoes, and other parasites or suffer heatstroke and die, as Molly did.

PETA urges anyone who witnesses neglect to report it to local authorities. If possible, witnesses should take pictures and note how long an animal is left without adequate food, water, or shelter.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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