During a press conference Thursday Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone introduced recovered Shelter Paws dogs.
Chelsea Curtis, Arizona Republic

The owner of a Mesa-area animal shelter has been indicted on multiples charges following a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office investigation into animal neglect claims reported late last year. 

In October, more than 50 dogs were seized from the Shelter Paws animal shelter, located on a county island east of Mesa at 8831 E. Apache Trail, after MCSO received reports of alleged animal neglect at the facility. The dogs were discovered to be extremely malnourished and were confined with feces in their crates. 

According to Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone, of the 52 dogs seized, one died immediately, another was euthanized “because he was in such severe medical distress” and three more dogs were euthanized because they were “aggressive in nature” and could not be socialized. Two dogs were returned to their lawful owners, he added. 

Domenic Anthony Asprella, the owner of Shelter Paws, was indicted in late June on one count of fraudulent schemes, one count of cruelty to animals, 11 counts of animal cruelty intentionally mistreatment, 52 counts of cruelty to animals and 52 counts of animal cruelty/failure to provide medical treatment, Penzone said, during a press conference Thursday.

Asprella was served July 15 and is expected to face the charges in Maricopa County Superior Court, he added. 

Asprella’s lawyer David Keys-Nunes declined to comment. 

“They (the dogs) were living in their own feces and urine and there was a considerable amount of food, if I recall correctly, at the facility and it was not being distributed at a regular basis to the animals so the financial resources were in place, the needs for the animals were available but there was not a constant day in, day out care of these animals, it was sheer neglect and abuse,” said Penzone. “So I would say, scope-wise, it’s one of the broader ones (cases) I’ve experienced.”

According to Penzone, the remaining 45 dogs are being housed at the MCSO Animal Safe Haven (MASH) Unit, where detention officers, animal care experts and inmates who have been cleared help care for the animals. They will stay there until the case is resolved, Penzone indicated.

“These animals are evidence and I know that sounds cold to say because they are living, breathing, emotional and passionate beings, but they are considered evidence within the court so we’re responsible for their care and custody until we’re able to adjudicate the case and potentially adopt them out to a more caring family, ” said Penzone. 

According to Penzone, the MASH facility was not designed for animal care.

PetSmart Charities to donate $2 million to the agency to build a brand new facility for the animals at the Durango jail and court facility in Phoenix. The goals if for private dollars to be raised to build the new facility, not taxpayer money, added Penzone. 

“We have to raise 80% before we can actually break ground on it,” he said. “I’ve had a few other funders come forward making contributions but I would tell you that we’re about…we’re not quite to the halfway mark but we could sure use some help from some kind people who want to make a difference.”

In October, protestors gathered outside the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in downtown Phoenix urging MCSO to take action in the investigation. Penzone explained that the case took a lengthy amount of time because they were gathering details to show the dogs arrived at the facility in a healthier state than they were when MCSO arrived to investigate. 

“We want to make sure, as a law enforcement agency, that we are throughout and that we identify any and all information available before we pursue prosecution to ensure the ultimate goal, which is that prosecution is successful, leading to convictions and holding people accountable for crimes,” he said. 

Penzone said among the time-consuming parts of the investigation, was determining how much money the facility collected from people who boarded dogs there. He said from June to October 2018, Asprella collected $23,333.70. 

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @curtis_chels

Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral today.

Read or Share this story: