PUNTA GORDA — A couple arrested Friday are accused of failing to get treatment for their dog after it developed a tumor, and then attempting to abandon it at the Animal Welfare League of Charlotte County.

Christopher and Angel Payne, of Punta Gorda, allegedly brought their 13-year-old Shih Tzu, Nitro, to AWL claiming he was a stray they had found a few days earlier.

The Animal Welfare League contacted Charlotte County Animal Control on March 30 about the dog’s “deplorable conditions,” according to Senior Animal Control Officer Reannon Juergensen. She said the dog had severe matting and a large tumor in his mouth. Animal Control suspected the people who dropped the dog off might actually be his owners.

“The dog’s tumor itself was infected,” she said. “It had a very, very, very foul odor to it. In my experience, most people prefer not to have that type of animal in their home with the odor, especially when it’s not yours.”

Animal Control had a conversation with the Paynes, who eventually admitted Nitro was their dog, who they had owned for the majority of his life. He had not been seen by a vet for several years, according to Animal Control’s investigation. Nitro had to be put down, as removing the tumor would have meant removing a large portion of his bottom jaw.

“Unfortunately the tumor was large enough where surgery was not really an option,” Juergensen said.

The Paynes were both charged with one count of torturing or inflicting pain/serious physical injury or death on an animal and abandonment of animals. The first is a third-degree felony, while the second is a first-degree misdemeanor.

Juergensen noted if the tumor had been addressed immediately, there’s a strong likelihood he would still be living.

“Those types of cancer are considered pretty aggressive,” she said. “If it was treated a few months prior, the dog very likely would have been alive today.”

A lack of finances to treat the dog appeared to be an issue, but Juergensen noted there are other options for anyone who finds themselves in a similar position.

“In the event you take your animal to the vet and this is the diagnosis, if it’s truly not something you can afford, as opposed to getting it to the state Nitro got in, you might be able to find a rescue group, potentially a shelter, something like that and at least get him fixed,” she said.

Re-homing is typically the outcome in those situations, which can be hard on pet owners, but is often best scenario for the animals.

“It’s always a hard decision for anyone to let their dog go to a shelter or a new owner if he can be fixed for his issues, but it’s also not fair to let the animal sit in this condition either,” Juergensen said.

The Paynes were both released from jail after posting $7,000 bonds each.

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