A woman facing criminal theft charges for allegedly stealing from the nonprofit Howard County Animal Welfare Society she runs is now awaiting a ruling on a civil charge of animal cruelty for allegedly neglecting a dog at her facility.
Robin Deltuva, 36, who lives in a house on the society property on Davis Road next to the county government's animal shelter, denied neglecting a small brown Chihuahua named JJ that a society volunteer took to an emergency clinic Aug. 6.
The volunteer said the dog was emaciated, listless and nearly dead. The animal is now thriving at home with her, Kerrie Ater of Catonsville told the Howard County Animal Matters Hearing Board at a hearing Tuesday night.
The board will issue a decision in a month, said Chairwoman Rena Shooman, but that case might be the least of Deltuva's worries.
She is free on $20,000 bail on a charge of felony theft from the society, which was run for years by her mother, Michelle Deltuva, who died last spring. County prosecutors say she took more than $50,000 of the society's funds for personal use over an 18-month period, and Deltuva is scheduled to be arraigned this week. Volunteers reported suspicious expenditures to county police.
Deltuva refused to comment on that case at the hearing board session, where Ater and a county animal control officer testified that JJ appeared near death before emergency treatment.
Ater said she was so alarmed by the dog's condition after five days at the shelter that she bundled him up and drove him to an emergency veterinarian's office, walking past Deltuva, who was just coming in to work.
"His head was flopped over," she said, and his body was abnormally cool, an account backed by Sherry Fox, the county animal control officer who wrote the citation, which carries a maximum $100 fine.
"This dog was skeletal, absolutely horrible. It doesn't get much worse than this," Fox told the board. JJ had sores inside his mouth, chronic diarrhea, and his ribs and hips were clearly visible. "It was inexcusable that he was not evaluated by a veterinarian" at the shelter, Fox said. Deltuva is responsible for the animals there, Fox said.
But Deltuva and her attorney, Gary S. Peklo, portrayed a very different situation, arguing that the dog, a former personal pet of Deltuva's, was eating and walking despite severe weight loss before coming back to the shelter from an adoptive family. A veterinarian was due for a routine visit to the shelter just minutes after Ater took the animal away, Deltuva said.
"She is an animal lover beyond reproach," Peklo told the board. "She had a [personal] connection to this dog. She did what was reasonable at the time."
Deltuva said she had given the dog to a friend of her mother's more than five years ago, but the friend returned JJ on July 12 because of her own health problems. The dog, incorrectly listed as 2 years old on adoption papers, was then given to a new family two days later. But that family returned JJ on Aug. 1, saying their other dog was preventing JJ from eating. The animal was painfully thin, but Deltuva said she and her staff fed him regularly and tried to nurse him back to health with baby food and other supplements. They did not feel his condition was dire and waited until a regular visit from Dr. Joseph Mancino scheduled for Aug. 6.
"I saw him every day" Deltuva said, and offered him food. "We deal with that stuff all the time. He was eating and drinking water and walking around."
Peklo also argued that the charge was technically deficient because the officer did not see the animal on the day of the citation and no sworn statement from a citizen accompanied it. Fox said another volunteer, not Ater, reported the incident.
Deltuva said she has lived on the shelter property for more than two years and has spent 18 years working with animals. She said no volunteer or staff member told her they thought JJ was in crisis and needed emergency care, even though she lives on the property and is available either in person or by cell phone.
Deltuva was supported at the hearing by Mancino, other volunteers and Gloria Garcia, an employee, as well as by several friends. Mancino said people at Deltuva's society "go above and beyond the call of duty" in caring for animals. "I don't think this was a case that was an emergency," he said.