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FILE - In this Tuesday, April 5, 2011 file photo, a one-year-old pit bull nicknamed Patrick sits next to flowers sent by a supporter in Alaska as he recovers at Garden State Veterinary Specialists in Tinton Falls, N.J., after being found starved and dumped in a trash chute. The New Jersey woman who admitted tying the pit bull to a railing and leaving it for a week, is is not going to prison. On Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, a judge sentenced Kisha Curtis to 18 months' probation. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)
N.J. woman spared prison in dog-in-trash chute case
First Published Aug 29 2013 10:43 pm • Last Updated Aug 29 2013 10:43 pm

Newark, N.J. • A woman who admitted abandoning a dog later found at the bottom of a trash chute in a case that became a cause celebre and led to tougher animal cruelty laws was sentenced to probation Thursday by a judge who urged the animal’s supporters to "put things in perspective."

The Essex County prosecutor’s office had sought to have Kisha Curtis given the maximum sentence of 18 months in prison after she pleaded guilty to fourth-degree animal cruelty last month just before her trial was to begin. She got 18 months of probation instead.

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Curtis, 29, admitted that she left the pit bull tied to a railing outside her Newark apartment building in 2011 when she left town for a week. The emaciated dog was found in a plastic bag at the bottom of the building’s trash chute, unable to stand and weighing about 20 pounds, or about 30 pounds below normal weight.

He was nursed back to health at a veterinary hospital and is now happy and healthy, his new owners wrote in a letter read to the court Thursday.

Curtis didn’t admit throwing the dog down the trash chute.

Judge Joseph Cassini III said Curtis was "tried in the court of public opinion" and "portrayed as a monster" in the weeks and months after her arrest. The prosecutor’s office, the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the facility that treated the dog — known as Patrick because he was discovered around St. Patrick’s Day — received thousands of letters, faxes and emails from people around the world offering support or advice. Some even urged Cassini to give Curtis the death penalty.

Speaking to a courtroom filled with green-shirted supporters of Patrick, Cassini said he is a dog lover and owns two German shepherds but contrasted Curtis’ case with one scheduled in his courtroom later Thursday in which a man stands accused of killing a Newark police officer.

"On a scale of 10, with 10 being the most serious, Ms. Curtis’ case, from where I sit, is around a three or a four," he said. "In this case, fortunately, no one was killed; Patrick survived and is thriving. We have to put things in perspective."

That reasoning didn’t sit well with members of a group called Prayers for Patrick who attended the sentencing.

"I just wanted her to serve some time," said Allison Ognibene of Sparta. "She left this dog to die. After 2½ years of dragging this out, I don’t think justice was served."

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Curtis, whose hair was dyed bright pink, didn’t make a statement before she was sentenced and didn’t comment outside the courtroom afterward. Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Margarita Rivera said Curtis, a mother of four, was entitled to a probationary term by law because of the level of the offense and the fact she had didn’t have a criminal record. She said Curtis also has followed court-ordered mental health and substance-abuse counseling since her arrest and appears to be turning her life around.

"She has done well the last two years; she has been a model citizen," Rivera said. "[The judge] followed the law and followed it justly."

This month, Gov. Chris Christie signed "Patrick’s Law," which increases fines and maximum prison sentences for some animal cruelty offenses.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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