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Don’t just let it happen — that’s the advice of local law enforcers and animal advocates to the community after losing a dog named Sunshine last week to suspected starvation.

“The best thing they can do is call somebody. Don’t wait, don’t say ‘It’s not my problem.’ Make the call,” said Keith Flowers, president of the Lamar County Humane Association.

The Paris Police Department answered a flood of calls last week after Sunshine’s story spread via social media. Sunshine died Wednesday at a Frisco animal hospital after a patrol officer found the dog chained to a tree, starving, in “the worst shape he’d ever seen,” Capt. Terry Bull said.

The department is investigating the animal cruelty case, and is working to “present the case to the Lamar County Attorney’s Office for prosecution,” according to a statement.

Bull, who heads the Paris Animal Shelter, said anyone may report suspected animal abuse to the Paris Police Department or may call the animal shelter directly from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Officers investigate every report to determine legitimacy because the department takes animal abuse seriously, he said.

The police department, the animal shelter and the humane association work together to assist and rehabilitate abused animals, Flowers said. The mission of the humane society is “the prevention of suffering, neglect, abuse and cruelty to animals and extension of human education through spay and neuter programs and educational platforms.” The association often assists with finding medical treatment for animals like Sunshine, Flowers said.

Paris police receive abuse calls several times a year, Bull said. There were 26 reports of animal abuse in Paris in 2018 and 17 reports so far this year, according to police records. The most common incident animal control officers encounter is when people move and leave their pets behind on the property.

“If we get there, and no one’s living at the house, we’ll make an attempt to find out who was living there before we pick up their dog,” Bull said.

If the department is told about a potential abuse case or injured animal, officers investigate and take a report and photos if the situation meets criteria: lack of food, water or shelter, or signs of injury or neglect, Bull said. Like any other case, they also speak to witnesses. If the situation meets the criteria, animal control will pick up the animal, he said.

Depending on the level of abuse or neglect, these calls can result in criminal charges up to a felony. Bulls said such incidents are passed onto the criminal investigation unit at the department, then on to the local district attorney’s office, which determines if there are sufficient grounds for prosecution.

“We don’t get too many of those,” Bull said.

Animal cruelty in Texas is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Neglect is a misdemeanor until the third offense, when it becomes a felony. This is punishable by reimbursement, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Animal cruelty includes torturing an animal; failing to provide food, care or shelter; abandoning an animal; transporting or confining an animal in a cruel manner; killing, seriously injuring or poisoning an animal; causing an animal to fight with another or seriously overworking an animal.

To report suspected abuse, call the Paris Police Department at 903-784-6688, or the animal shelter at 903-784-6860. There also is a PETA hotline available 24/7 at 757-622-7382.

Macon Atkinson is a staff writer for The Paris News. She can be reached at 903-785-6963 or macon.atkinson@theparisnews.com.

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