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McKeesport woman's animal cruelty trial postponed

| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 2:46 a.m.

A McKeesport woman accused of animal cruelty and other charges had her hearing postponed on Tuesday.

Juanita Mitchell, 39, presented a document from the Allegheny County Public Defender's office to city Magisterial District Judge Eugene Riazzi after approximately half an hour of testimony.

The judge said he wished Mitchell had showed him the document at the beginning of the hearing.

The paper indicated that Mitchell was approved for counsel from the county public defender's office, but that an attorney only could be at the McKeesport magistrate's office on Mondays for criminal hearings.

Mitchell's preliminary hearing was rescheduled for Monday at 8:30 a.m. in front of Riazzi on charges of animal cruelty, dog abandonment, failure to have a dog license and failure to have proper dog vaccinations.

The charges are in connection with a Rottweiler that was found on Mitchell's property during a house fire on Feb. 21 at 2709 Palmgreen St.

McKeesport police Officer Mark Marino testified he saw flames coming out of a second-story window in the rear of the residence when he first responded. He said someone screamed that dogs were on the property, so he found and rescued two canines.

Marino said the back porch was covered in dog feces and there was no visible food or water for the canines.

McKeesport dog enforcement officer Ken Ferree said the Rottweiler had been tied up with a rigid frayed cable that became imbedded into her neck, creating an infected laceration. He said the dog was transported to White Oak Animal Safe Haven. Ferree said shelter staff arranged for veterinary care and emergency surgery for the neck wound; the vet bill is $2,008. He said the dog was 35-40 pounds underweight.

The other dog, a pit bull mix that ran away after the fire, since has returned to Mitchell's custody.

“I'm sorry Leah (the Rottweiler) got hurt,” Mitchell said. “I have six kids. My kids were supposed to take care of her.”

She said she took the dog in off the street and her children assured her that they were caring for the Rottweiler and another pit bull mix. Mitchell said she never saw the dog's neck in that condition.

“How do you explain the veterinary report?” Riazzi questioned.

Mitchell said the dog could have received the neck injuries from trying to get away from the fire.

Ferree said the cable wire had to be imbedded into the dog's neck for a period of time to result in a wound and infection like it had.

Mitchell said she kept food and water for the dogs inside her house where they often were. Mitchell's 13-year-old daughter Priscilla testified that the Rottweiler was the responsibility of herself and her brother.

“I was trusting in my 16-year-old son because he wanted the dog so bad,” Mitchell said.

Sharon West testified that she brought food for Mitchell's dogs every other week.

As for the charge of abandoning the Rottweiler, Mitchell said she couldn't afford the $600 in fees and veterinary bills she said Ferree told her she had to pay to get her dog back.

Ferree said Mitchell's pit bull mix was found on Monday night running loose approximately a block away from the location of the fire. Ferree notified Mitchell that the dog was in the custody of Ferree Kennels and she could pick it up. Mitchell said that instance was her dog-sitter's fault.

Stacy Lee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1970, or