Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said Monday his deputies arrested a suspect in an animal abuse case that he called “bone-chilling” and “heartbreaking.”
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Anthony Bellman, 55, of Lehigh Acre, left Lee County Jail on a $50,000 bond Saturday in the abuse of a 16-year-old mostly blind Shih Tzu named Xyla. He faces a charge of felony aggravated animal cruelty.
According to Marceno, employees at the Lehigh Acres Family Dollar on Joel Boulevard investigated Thursday after they saw a man in a blue Hyundai put a bag in a commercial trash receptacle and discovered the bag moving.
More:Lee sheriff’s Animal Cruelty Task Force hopes to prevent future crimes
They found Xyla with a rope tied around her neck and took her to BluePearl Pet Hospital, also in Lehigh Acres.
Marceno said if the “hero” employees hadn’t acted, Xyla would have suffocated slowly in the bag in extreme heat.
“She was on her way to a painful death. … her last moments would have been like drowning from the inside out,” he said.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Animal Cruelty Task Force had responded immediately to the call at BluePearl, Marceno said.
Within two hours, the task force members reviewed a video of the man dumping the trash bag, tracked the animal’s identification microchip, and interviewed Bellman, arresting him.
Marceno said the same blue car seen on video was at Bellman’s nearby home and Bellman was wearing the clothes he wore in the video.
He said Xyla’s original owners had died, and Bellman assumed ownership from his family members. He told other family members he was taking the dog “to be put down.”
Animal Cruelty Task Force arrests 15
Marceno lauded the task for its successes. It has responded to the following since its 2020 inception:
∎ 2,712 animal calls;
∎ 60 Crime Stoppers tips;
∎ 154 Online complaints through the portal;
∎ 67 reports through the animal abuse hotline; and
∎ 15 felony animal cruelty arrests.
Fourteen people committing animal cruelty cases since 2021 have joined the registry.
Lee County Animal Abuser Registry
Marceno said his office is working closely with the State Attorney’s Office, 20th Judicial Circuit to prosecute the case.
Those convicted of felony animal abuse in Lee County face having their names placed on the Animal Abuser Registry, much like the state’s sex offender registry.
Those placed on the Animal Abusers Registry may not own animals.
“We’re not going to allow people to abuse animals,” Marceno said. “… It’s an evil midset and they have no heart.”
Where can we go to adopt Xyla?
Xyla is recovering at Lee County Domestic Animal Services, Marceno said.
“Xyla was treated medically and in great health now,” he said. “… running around” and getting ready to go through the adoption process.
“Xyla’s gonna get a loving home for however long she’s on this earth,” he said.
Animal abuse, cruelty, and/or neglect can be reported by calling (239) 477-1000, by calling 911 under emergency circumstances, or by completing an online report. Anonymous reports of animal abuse, cruelty, and/or neglect can be reported by calling Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers at (800) 780-TIPS (8477).
Stacey Henson is the breaking news and visuals editor for The News-Press and Naples Daily News. You may reach her at [email protected]