A St. Clair Twp. woman who pleaded guilty to multiple misdemeanor charges was sentenced to five years probation Tuesday in Butler County Common Pleas Court.
Melissa Damico was indicted in February on three felony counts of cruelty to companion animals and four misdemeanor charges of the same crime. She pleaded guilty to seven misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty in August. The charges carried a maximum sentence of up to 180 days in jail.
The 46-year-old Damico was arrested Jan. 7 after a welfare check was conducted at 3700 Morganthaler Road in St. Clair Twp. by county humane officers, who found three dogs dead due to neglect and cold weather. Four other dogs were found alive but severely malnourished.
Butler County Dog Warden Supervisor Kurt Merbs said Damico had moved to a new home, abandoning the seven dogs. There was no food, water or appropriate shelter from the weather for the animals, he said. The surviving dogs, all Chihuahua mixed breeds, were taken to the Animal Friends Humane Society to recover.
Damico’s attorney, Frank Schiavone IV, told Judge Noah Powers II that Damico fled the house because of abuse she and her child were enduring from the resident. The man has since been convicted and is serving a prison sentence, according to Schiavone.
“The perception is she is monster,” Schiavone said. “She is not. She made the best decision she could at the time to get away.”
Schiavone added, the reality is that Damico has lost her job and will have to live with her decision for the rest of her life.
Damico sobbed as she told the judge she was sorry for her decision.
“There’s nothing I can do to change the past,” Damico said. “All I want to do is make the future better.”
Powers said he found in this case the circumstances are more of neglect rather than abuse of the dogs.
“She was in a bad situation,” Powers said “That does not excuse her conduct, but it is a reason why.”
The judge also ordered Damico to serve 100 hours of community service and pay restitution of $400.
Damico was ordered not to own pets while on probation. Powers told her if he learned that she owns animals he would order her to serve the maximum jail sentence of 180 days in jail on each charge.
“These companion animals rely on us for everything, they give us love and companionship and you let them down,” Powers told Damico.