When Carmenza Piedrahita wanted to declaw her kitten Toby, Miami-Dade prosecutors say, she didn’t go to a licensed veterinarian.
Instead, she turned to an elderly Miami man who along with another man performed an illegal do-it-yourself declawing of the cat, police said. Toby fell ill. For two weeks, he lingered in pain and dehydration, vomiting a green substance, the exposed bones on his front paws infected and swollen.
Piedrahita finally took Toby to a Miami animal clinic, where he died. Now, prosecutors have formally charged Piedrahita, 54, and Geronimo Gonzalez, 72, with felony animal cruelty.
“She feels terrible about the whole situation,” said Piedrahita’s lawyer, Christian Dunham. “She really wanted the cat. If not, she wouldn’t have taken him to the clinic.”
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Piedrahita was formally charged last week and plans to fight the prosecution. Gonzalez pleaded not guilty Wednesday at arraignment in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. His lawyer declined to comment.
“I can’t imagine the pain and suffering this cat endured. Animals suffer in silence,” said Miami-Dade Chief Assistant State Attorney Kathleen Hoague, who is prosecuting the case with Kimberly Archila.
The declawing of cats, while legal when performed by a licensed veterinarian, is frowned upon by many veterinarians and the animal-rights community. It has been banned in some countries.
According to the Humane Society, which opposes declawing, many pet owners falsely believe the operation is akin to trimming nails. In fact, the procedure actually involves amputating the last bone of each toe. “If performed on a human being, declawing would be like cutting off each finger at the last knuckle,” according to Humane Society literature.
Because of the health risks — some cats end up with limps for life — many vets won’t perform the delicate procedure anymore. That includes Miami’s Silver Bluff Animal Clinic, which encourages cat owners to buy a scratching post or try replaceable soft plastic caps for the nails of the felines.
“We also try to teach owners of kittens to trim their nails,” said Silver Bluff vet Melanie Anderson. “We really try to steer them away from the declawing process.”
As for Toby, he was a stray who at 2 months old was adopted through the county’s animal shelter in July 2014. By the time he was 8 months old, Piedrahita decided to get him declawed.
“I thought it was best for him because he had damaged some furniture,” she wrote in her statement to Miami-Dade police. “I had the best intentions. I wanted to keep him in the house because he was our beloved cat.”
Piedrahita admitted that she did not take Toby directly to a clinic because it was too expensive. In September, while at a party at a ranch in Homestead, Piedrahita met Gonzalez.
According to her statement and to her lawyer, Piedrahita honestly believed he was a vet. “She thought he was legit,” Dunham said. “She definitely wouldn’t have gone to him if she thought he wasn’t a vet.”
But Miami-Dade police say Piedrahita “had full knowledge” that Gonzalez was not licensed.
The elderly man picked up Toby from Piedrahita’s West Kendall home on Sept 28 and took him somewhere in South Miami-Dade. Most of the procedure was actually performed by another man identified only as Jose, according to police report. (He has yet to be charged.)
Exactly what cutting tool was used in the operation is unknown. The operation was done for free, although Piedrahita offered to give Gonzalez $100. He declined.
Gonzalez claimed he only assisted by “holding” the sedated animal and “applying crazy glue” to the paws after they were cut, police said. Piedrahita claimed she took the cat to the clinic four days later, although police believed it was longer — he was brought to the Animal Welfare Society of South Florida on Oct. 9, nearly two weeks after the surgery.
Photos in the court file depicted the gruesome wounds. A vet also noted that the animal was “in severe pain due to exposed bones in both front legs.”
Piedrahita, who has no criminal record, is charged with a third-degree felony and faces up to five years in prison if convicted.