A woman charged with 12 counts of animal cruelty for leaving puppies inside her car at the Johnson City Medical Center earlier this month said she was distraught after a call her brother was gravely ill.
“I got a phone call my brother was dying and (that) I needed to get to the hospital,” said Pamela Messer, of Greeneville.
Messer, 62, and her husband, Anthony Messer, 63, are each charged with the 12 counts that apply to 12 puppies — some eight to 10-weeks-old — left inside the car when the couple went to check on Pamela Messer’s brother after getting that call while at a local flea market.
“I just packed up from the flea market. I was just out of my head,” she said. “I was only there 10 minutes at most. I saw he was stabilized and said I had to go (because) I had puppies in the car.”
Johnson City police were dispatched to the parking lot after someone called 911 about the puppies. Animal Control Officer Wayne Thomas also responded to the scene and took custody of the puppies.
In a court document, Thomas wrote the temperature inside the car was over 99 degrees and he found the puppies “to be extremely hot, panting and glazed eyes from being inside the hot vehicle for approximately 20 minutes unattended.”
Dogs don’t sweat, but pant to cool themselves. If the air is hot, it prohibits that cooling process, according to local veterinarians.
Thomas also noted the puppies were in pet carriers and the car was parked in the sun.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Messer disputed the officer’s belief that the puppies were suffering from the heat.
“The puppies were in no distress,” she said, but acknowledged the car was hot and they had left the puppies, which are various breeds, inside and unattended. Messer said three of the puppies, all Dachshunds, are hers, but she was “monitoring” the others for a friend. She said the Dachshunds were for sale at her inside, air conditioned booth at the flea market but she was just keeping an eye on the younger pups.
“I can’t deny that they were left in the car. The truth is the truth no matter how,” you look at it. “It was just a mistake. I wish we had thought more and had been more clearheaded,” she said.
When Messer and her husband returned to their car, “the police officer was sitting (the puppies) on the hot pavement, which would have made it worse on them. I said ‘You can’t set them puppies on the pavement,’” she said.
“I got in the car and turned the air conditioner on and put them back in the car until the animal control officer got there.”
Animal Shelter Director Debbie Dobbs said ten of the puppies are doing well, but two are at a veterinarian’s office with upper respiratory problems. Messer said the puppies got sick after being taken to the shelter.
Dobbs said she had hoped the case would be settled Tuesday so the puppies “didn’t have to stay here” and could be adopted or turned back over to the Messers. But the court case had already been reset after the Messers attorney sent a letter to waive their arraignment and ask for a trial date.
“They seem like nice people,” Dobbs said, adding that the Messers have visited the puppies since they were seized.
Pamela Messer said she would never do anything to intentionally injure her animals and she was simply distraught over her brother’s reported condition, particularly after having lost two family members since December.
“We care about our puppies. We love our dogs. This is something I’ve done for 17 years. Hindsight’s 20/20, but I didn’t intentionally mean to do it. ”
Messer owns Tiny Paws and Waggin Tails, a “dog dealer” licensed by the Tennessee Department of Health’s Division of Animal Welfare.
“I’m inspected every year. I have a license through the state. The same people who inspect me inspect the animal shelter,” Messer said. She also said the Greene County Animal Control visited her home Monday and found nothing wrong with her care of the 10 dogs she owns and breeds.
Dobbs said the case is another reminder about the danger of leaving animals in vehicles.
“Children and animals don’t belong in a hot vehicle. People need to think and use good judgement,” she said.
The Messers are scheduled for a court hearing in Washington County Sessions Court Aug. 1.