Crime

Do-it-yourself declawing that killed kitten may land Miami woman in jail

Toby the cat died in a botched home declawing operation in South Miami-Dade. His owner, Carmenza Piedrahita, pleaded guilty Thursday to animal cruelty.
Toby the cat died in a botched home declawing operation in South Miami-Dade. His owner, Carmenza Piedrahita, pleaded guilty Thursday to animal cruelty. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

A West Kendall woman is going to jail — maybe — for arranging a botched do-it-yourself declawing operation that killed her kitten Toby.

A Miami-Dade judge on Thursday sentenced Carmenza Piedrahita to 30 days in jail for animal cruelty. But Piedrahita won’t have to surrender for exactly one year, at which time the judge could dismiss the sentence if she has stayed trouble free.

Circuit Judge Yvonne Colodny proposed the sentence — with the “jail time hanging over her head” — because Piedrahita had never before been in trouble with the law.

“Little Toby did suffer,” Colodny said. “The court does note, however, that Ms. Piedrahita has lived in this community for 30 years with no priors.”

As part of the plea deal struck by the court, Piedrahita, 55, would avoid jail if she performs community service, stays away from pets and pays $500 to Animal Welfare Society of South Florida. Under the deal, she won’t be considered a convicted felon.

The conclusion of the case came more than six months after Piedrahita decided to get Toby the cat declawed, an operation that is legal when performed by a licensed veterinarian. Still, the procedure is frowned upon by many veterinarians and the animal-rights community and 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.

Piedrahita wanted Toby declawed because the cat was damaging her furniture. But instead of paying the $800 for the operation with a vet, she turned to an elderly Miami man, who along with another man performed an illegal do-it-yourself declawing of the cat, prosecutors 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. Prosecutors also charged Geronimo Gonzalez, 72, and Jose Diaz, 56, the men believed to have performed the botched operation. Their cases are pending.

Her lawyer, Christian Dunham, insisted Piedrahita did not deserve jail time.

“This is her first interaction with the criminal justice system,” Dunham said Thursday. “She feels terrible she didn’t care for this cat properly after the surgery.”

Prosecutors wanted at least 30 days in jail for Piedrahita.

Said prosecutor Kim Archila: “This cat obviously suffered a cruel death.”

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