West Palm man wants dogs back; county claims he left them during Irma


Highlights

On vacation abroad, surburban West Palm man learns animal control seized his three dogs, might charge him

Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control took away Joseph Licata’s three dogs two weeks ago, alleging he abandoned them with Hurricane Irma approaching.

Licata, desperate to get his dogs back, argues he didn’t abandon them. Rather, he was on vacation in London, a trip he planned for a year, and enlisted a friend to give them food and water and take them inside if the storm got close.

“I did make a stupid mistake,” he conceded: He parked his car in front of the door to protect the house, not realizing it was too close for the caretaker to let the dogs in. They usually live in his yard.

She was there before the storm when, alerted by a neighbor, Animal Care and Control took Pretty the chihuahua mix, Carla the boxer mix and Rusty the Malinois mix after seeing the caretaker had no way to get into the house.

Licata hasn’t seen his pets since his return.

They’re “kind of like a small, medium and large,” as he describes the dogs, which he got from a shelter 12 years ago.

“We love them dearly,” he said. “They’re about 15 years old. They’re like kids for me.”

Animal Care and Control sees it differently. They’re dealing with dozens of pets abandoned during the hurricane. The agency and the nearby Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League have so many homeless pets on hand, they’re waiving all pet adoption fees through Oct. 14.

In Licata’s case, meanwhile, “there’s a criminal investigation and his scenario is, he is very likely to face criminal charges,” David Walesky, operations manager for the county agency said Friday. “He evacuated the country and left three geriatric dogs in his yard. The caretaker had no means to put the animals away during the winds.”

Licata faces civil and criminal actions, Walesky said. Within 30 days there’ll be a civil hearing in which a judge will decide whether Licata can get his dogs back. Even if he does, he still could be hit with criminal charges.

Licata said he’s beside himself. “I haven’t been able to eat or sleep.”

He’s grateful the agency took the dogs in to protect them, given the circumstances. But he can’t understand why they’re accusing him of abandonment.

He works for the U.S. Postal Service, where employees pick their vacation days far in advance, last November in his case. He bought his plane tickets and arranged for a longtime friend to look after the dogs.

He didn’t get the agency’s phone message right away because he didn’t have service in England. When he finally got through and said he would pick up the dogs Friday, Sept. 15, “some lady there said, ‘to pick up your dogs you have to speak to an officer, because they were picked up under suspicious circumstances.’”

He went in, told them his story. They wouldn’t let him see the dogs.

“They looked at me and they were very cold, very unconcerned. One of the officers said, ‘So you’re admitting that you blocked the door.’ I said, ‘Not deliberately.’ I said, ‘I admit I made a mistake and didn’t leave enough room to let them in.’”

“They said, ‘We’re going to go for custody of your dogs … Conversation’s over.”

“The moral of the story is, they’re 15 years old and they want custody of them. What does that mean? They’re going to try to have somebody adopt them? Nobody’s going to adopt them. They’re going to be destroyed. I don’t know what they’re accomplishing. Now they’re … in a little cage, when they’re used to being free. They haven’t seen me in three weeks.”

But the officials told him that if an owner leaves the premises without taking the dogs, that’s abandonment, Licata said. He argued that, if he had children and left them with a babysitter, that would be abandonment?

“They don’t deserve to be destroyed and I don’t deserve to be tortured like this,” he said. “Not for an accidental thing I did wrong.”



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