WINCHESTER — The Frederick County couple convicted two weeks ago of breeding a dog to near death have appealed their cases to Frederick County Circuit Court.
Gary Wayne Helsley Sr. and his wife, Sylvia Helsley, of the 100 block of Cedar Grove Road, are scheduled to appear on Aug. 18 in Frederick County Circuit Court to set a trial date. According to filings in the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, both defendants have requested a bench trial, meaning they want a judge to decide their fates rather than a jury.
On June 8, the Helsleys entered Alford pleas of guilt in Frederick County General District Court to one misdemeanor count each of cruelty to animals. An Alford plea allows a defendant to maintain his or her innocence while acknowledging the strength of the prosecution’s evidence is enough to warrant a conviction.
For the past 10 years, court records state, the Helsleys bred a small Yorkshire terrier twice a year in order to sell her puppies. The prolonged overbreeding of the 11-year-old dog caused her to suffer a distended abdominal hernia, skin ulcers, eye infections, muscle wasting, extensive skin and uterine infections and hair loss. By the time she was rescued, she was malnourished because she had lost her lower jaw and all of her teeth.
The Helsleys called the dog Spring but her rescuers gave her a new name: Miracle — Miri for short — because they said it was miraculous she had survived as long as she did.
Miri was rescued on Oct. 1 after a Frederick County resident, Amber Dawn Howard, told the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office she had found an ailing Yorkshire terrier along Cedar Grove Road near Winchester. Miri received emergency treatment at Valley Veterinary Emergency and Referral Center near Winchester, then was transported the next day to the Esther Boyd Animal Shelter in Frederick County. During the ride to the shelter, Sheriff’s Office Deputy April M. Morris wrote in a criminal complaint, “I placed her inside the crate in the back of my animal control vehicle and she collapsed due to being unable to hold herself up or walk.”
Miri stayed at the shelter for about two weeks until she was healthy enough to be transferred to Gray Face Acres, a nonprofit animal-rescue organization near Manassas that specializes in caring for older dogs. Miri reportedly flourished under Gray Face’s care but died in early January due to a collapsed trachea, a physical condition that interferes with an animal’s ability to breathe. Georgia Dodson, director of Gray Face Acres’ foster and adoption program, testified on June 8 that Miri’s passing was considered a natural death because a collapsed trachea is not uncommon among older, smaller dogs.
During Miri’s stay at Gray Face Acres, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office learned that Howard was a daughter of the Helsleys and that she and her father concocted a plan to report the dog as a stray so she could be euthanized, a procedure the family reportedly could not afford. Howard was subsequently fined $250 and ordered to pay an additional $224 in court costs for filing a false police report. As of Tuesday, the fine and court costs were unpaid, according to Frederick County General District Court records.
Gary and Sylvia Helsley were each sentenced on June 8 by General District Court Judge Mary Costello Daniel to 365 days in jail, the maximum amount of incarceration allowed in Virginia for a misdemeanor count of animal abuse. Daniel then suspended all but 90 days of jail time for each defendant.
Gary Helsley Sr. was scheduled to start serving his sentence Friday in the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center, and Sylvia Helsley was supposed to report to the jail on Tuesday. However, each appealed their convictions on Thursday and, as a result, are free pending trial in Circuit Court.
Daniel also banned the Helsleys from ever owning companion animals again. The pets that were still in the defendants’ home on June 8 were scheduled to be surrendered to another family member last week, but there is no indication in court records whether that happened.
Additionally, each Helsley was fined $200 for failing to purchase a dog license, failing to have Miri vaccinated against rabies and failing to show up in General District Court for a previously scheduled hearing in the case. Those fines, along with $380 in court costs and $284.71 in court-ordered restitution to the Esther Boyd Animal Shelter, are not part of the couple’s appeal and were unpaid as of Tuesday.