A township couple who pleaded guilty to charges relating to leaving a cocker spaniel in a trash bag were each sentenced Monday to six months in jail, and were ordered to pay $1,000 fines.
The pair, who received the maximum jail sentence for the animal abuse charges, must also pay a total of $13,000 in restitution to the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital. Both were barred from ever owning a dog again.
Keith and Shauna Morgan, of Sawmill Road, appeared in Brick Municipal Court before Judge Robert LePore and expressed remorse, saying they wished they could change what happened.
The pair had claimed to find the dog on the side of a road in Wall Township, but now admit that the story was a lie.
In court, a visibly upset Shauna Morgan said: "I should have foreseen this. If I would have foreseen this, it never would have happened. He would have gotten help. This isn't what we wanted. We wanted to get him help."
"It was a bad time in my life," said Keith Morgan. "I shouldn't have lied...wanted to apologize to my wife, Shauna. She wasn't there at the time."
LePore noted that the description of Sammy, in medical records, says he was "emaciated and dehydrated...he literally was too weak to stand."
"This illustrates behavior by the defendants that was heinous and cruel," the judge said. "How easily this could have been prevented. The gravity of this was such that he couldn't stand...it took 25 days of treatment to get him well."
Steven Zabarsky, the municipal prosecutor, painted a picture of the defendants as a pair who hatched a plan together, and willingly drove out of their way to the Red Bank SPCA to "concoct their story."
He said the household history in the Morgans showed another pet dog, a 3-year old, was "the picture of health."
"They let Samurai suffer...he was neglected, without food, without water, while the other dog was cared for," said the prosecutor, who asked for the maximum jail sentence. "The dog is permanently deaf, with a cleft foot."
The counsel for the Morgans, Marc B. Schram of Hazlet, brought up the pair's veterinary history with the dog, saying evidence shows the dog was treated regularly. "What's not in there is any evidence suggesting physical abuse neglect or misconduct," the counsel said.
The counsel also suggested Keith Morgan's recent health issues made him "unfit to care for two pets, let alone himself."
"Again this is not an excuse a defense...his life just fell off the tracks and he regrets this," the counsel said. "It was a moment of weakness. He just wanted to get the dog help" by fabricating a story to the SPCA that they had found the dog.
As the counsel outlined the Morgan's statement of remorse, LePore asked, "They had their hand in the cookie jar. What did you expect them to do?"
LePore then demanded to know how Keith Morgan managed to take care of himself but not take care of the pet. The counsel argued the incident was not premeditated.
"Does it have to say it's premeditated?" LePore interrupted.
"This is not who he's been his entire life," counsel said.
In a previous court proceeding, Keith Morgan entered pleas of guilty to abuse and animal cruelty, and filing a false report with police. Shauna Morgan entered guilty pleas to two counts of abuse and neglect.
A charge of abandonment was dismissed.
Victor "Buddy" Amato, the chief humane law enforcement officer of the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, previously called the plea a "win," because the charges that were dismissed mirrored others charges with which the Morgans had been charged.
The community group “Sammy the Cocker Spaniel” recently posted a Facebook message urging for a maximum sentence. The group has more than 20,000 members. “
"Keith and Shauna Morgan pleaded guilty to abusing their dog Sammy, a lovely senior dog who was stuffed into a garbage bag, unable to walk and barely alive. Let's hope and pray that justice is served and that the maximum sentence is imposed at the sentencing hearing, Monday, in Brick, N.J.”