WINCHESTER — The two owners of a small dog named Miri who endured years of neglect and abuse will each serve 90 days in jail.
Gary Wayne Helsley Sr. and his wife, Sylvia Helsley, of the 100 block of Cedar Grove Road in Frederick County, entered Alford pleas of guilt Tuesday in Frederick County General District Court to one misdemeanor count each of cruelty to animals. They were also fined $100 each for the civil offenses of not buying a dog license and failing to have a companion animal vaccinated for rabies.
In a related case, the Helsleys daughter, Amber Dawn Howard of Frederick County, was fined $250 for filing a false police report.
According to court documents, Howard called the Frederick County Sheriff's Office on Oct. 1 to report she had found a small, sickly dog along Cedar Grove Road near Winchester. A subsequent investigation determined the dog actually belonged to Howard's parents and that Gary Wayne Helsely Sr. had asked his daughter to take the 11-year-old Yorkshire terrier to the Esther Boyd Animal Shelter in Frederick County to be surrendered or euthanized. Instead, Howard tried to pass off the pup as a stray who needed medical attention.
For the past 10 years, the Helsleys had bred Miri twice a year and the physical toll it took on the tiny dog's body was enormous. When she was found, Miri weighed less than 5 pounds, was missing her teeth and lower jaw, had an abdominal hernia so severe that her stomach dragged the ground and was unable to stand on her own.
"For years, she had screamed and whined in an effort to move around," Frederick County Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Marie Acosta told Judge Mary Costello Daniel. "It's such a level of callous disregard for the suffering of a living being."
Miri died on Jan. 14 while in the care of Gray Face Acres, a nonprofit animal-rescue organization in Prince William County.
Following a one-hour hearing on Tuesday, Daniel sentenced the Helsleys to 365 days in jail, which is the maximum allowed in Virginia for a Class 1 misdemeanor. The judge then suspended all but 90 days of the sentence and gave the husband and wife two weeks to report to the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center near Winchester.
Daniel also banned the Helsleys from ever having a companion animal again. Upon hearing that, Sylvia Helsley, who reportedly still has pets in her home, whispered to her attorney, Collin Heffern, "That's bull----."
For more on this story, see Wednesday's edition of The Winchester Star.