BROWNSVILLE — Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz said yesterday no charges would be brought in the case of a puppy severely burned last September with cooking oil.
“I can tell you that immediately after this case came up and we were in the middle of this investigation, we realized that we had to send the case back because the investigation was rather poorly done,” Saenz said.
The investigation was conducted by the Cameron County Sheriff’s Department.
That case was resubmitted to the DA’s office in November.
The investigation by the DA’s office revealed that the then-2-month-old pit bull’s burns were the result of an unfortunate accident, authorities said.
Administrative First Assistant District Attorney Edward A. Sandoval said the man who accidentally burned the puppy routinely dumped the oil that he used to cook food outside of a door adjacent to his kitchen, and on that day, like any other, he didn’t look outside before dumping the oil.
“He never saw the dog,” said Sandoval, the lead investigator on the case for the DA’s office.
As for the puppy, which survived and was later adopted, it happened to be where the man dumped the used cooking oil. Sandoval described it as simply an unfortunate coincidence.
“The guy felt very bad that he hurt this dog.” Sandoval said.
Saenz said his office investigated two possible criminal offenses in the case and determined that neither warranted charges.
“There were two points, two issues, that were the focus of the investigation. No. 1, was the actor who allegedly spilled the oil on the dog, was he criminally liable? And No. 2, were the owners of the dog, because the actor was not the owner of the dog, criminally liable in the care of the dog? Those are the two issues,” Saenz said.
The man who spilled the oil was not criminally liable because it was an honest accident, and the original owners of the dog were not criminally liable because they had taken measures to care for the animal, the investigation revealed.
“These folks are taking reasonable steps to try and take care of the puppy,” Sandoval said.
Sandoval said the owners of the dog did not have the financial means to take it to a veterinarian and sought advice from a neighbor who was a nurse on how to care for the animal.
“Based on the information, we didn’t think we had a situation of intent or criminal intent or criminal recklessness, it’s just a horrible, unfortunate situation,” Sandoval said.
And the incident wasn’t reported to the Cameron County Sheriff’s Department until several days after the puppy was burned, complicating the investigation from the beginning, Sandoval said.
“It turned out that it was an accident and that’s what it was,” Saenz said.
The entire process was a learning experience for the DA’s office and for numerous Cameron County law enforcement agencies.
Sandoval said the DA’s office realized it needed some training in how to investigate animal cruelty cases and reached out to Harris County Chief Animal Cruelty Prosecutor Jessica Milligan, who traveled to Cameron County to hold a seminar for law enforcement officers on how to properly and effectively investigate cases of alleged animal cruelty.
“It brought to our attention that, you know what, folks don’t know how to conduct investigations on dogs,” Saenz said. “We don’t do them as often as we do bodies and kilos.”
Sandoval said that’s when he reached out to Milligan’s office and asked for materials to teach a class. She went a step further, and traveled to Cameron County to teach it herself.
“If you look up case law, for cases going up on appeal, it’s her cases,” Sandoval said. “She’s the one that’s a trendsetter in this area of law, and we thought it was valuable.”
Saenz said the training was valuable and added that he also learned a lot.
“We needed to know this because we don’t know how to do a dog case, because it’s not that simple,” Saenz said. “And this is a good case to train with.”