N. Huntingdon woman found guilty of causing dog’s death, fined $300
A Westmoreland County judge on Friday found a North Huntingdon woman guilty of causing the death of a friend’s dog.
Following a non-jury trial, Common Pleas Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio ruled that Erin McGough caused the death of a 7-year-old beagle and shepherd mix named Tucker that was found dead a day after the animal was left in her care in July 2017.
Witnesses said the muzzled dog died in a yard six houses away from McGough’s Old Trail Road home.
“You did violate a duty of care and with putting on a muzzle that was not reasonable,” the judge said.
McGough, 37, was convicted of a summary count of cruelty to animals. She was fined $300 and ordered to repay the dog’s owner for a necropsy, which is an autopsy for an animal. McGough was also ordered to perform 20 hours of community service with a local humane society or another organization that cares for animals.
Bilik-DeFazio found McGough not guilty of a more serious misdemeanor animal cruelty charge, saying the evidence showed she did not willfully intend to kill the animal.
The prosecution contended the dog suffocated because it was outfitted with a muzzle that was too tight and did not allow it to breathe or drink. According to prosecutors, the dog’s owner, Ashley Santore, asked McGough and her family watch the animal as she took a weekend trip to Las Vegas.
Santore testified that hours after she left her dog, McGough said that it had gotten lose and was missing. Santore said she traveled back to North Huntingdon and searched all night but could not find her pet.
McGough said she gave up the search after about 30 minutes when a thunderstorm rolled into the area. She testified that the dog was tagged and that it was likely someone would call her if found. She also told the judge she believed the dog would travel back on its own to Santore’s home in Forest Hills, Allegheny County.
The pet was found dead the next day by one of McGough’s neighbors.
The dog had to be muzzled because it became aggressive after Santore left, McGough claimed. She said it refused to go outside, attempted to bite her young daughter and bit her hand as she attempted to pull it out of the home. Once outside, the dog managed to get out of a fenced in yard.
Humane officers testified there were no holes in the fence, and they were unable to find any evidence of how the dog escaped.
“I didn’t know how to get him outside to pee and not get bit. I was scared,” McGough testified. “In hindsight, I’m sure there was a better solution.”
Dr. Michael Ortiz, a veterinarian who performed the investigation of Tucker’s death, said the muzzle on the dog was so tight it caused bruising and had to be cut off the animal.
“I cannot find any other reasonable cause of death other than the muzzle,” Ortiz testified.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or [email protected]