MIDDLETOWN, OH (FOX19) - A Middletown woman is facing three counts of animal cruelty after Butler County officials discovered four dead animals, including a decapitated dog, at her home.
Investigators found the bodies of three starved dogs at a Middletown residence where Tina Marie Jackson was living, according to Butler County Dog Warden Kurt Merbs.
Authorities found only a severed head of the fourth deceased dog. Investigators said the head was not chewed off by an animal and appears to have been cut off by an instrument. The body has not been located.
Sharon Miller, a neighbor, said that Jackson's ex-husband contacted her from overseas and asked her to check on the dogs since Jackson was not currently living there.
When Miller went to the property, she said she discovered the dead animals and gave food and water to the living dog.
"How can somebody treat a baby like that? Or any animal? They depend on us," Miller said.
The next day, authorities and rescuers were on the case.
"It just made me sick. I just couldn't believe that this was happening," Lisa Cantrell with Joseph's Legacy said.
Jackson told authorities that two of the dogs got into a fight and died. She said another dog passed away because she forgot it was out in the cold. The warden said her reasons for their deaths did not add up.
She never offered an explanation for the decapitated dog, authorities said.
Necropsies showed that three of the dogs had no food inside their stomachs and their cause of death was ruled starvation.
"It was exposure to the cold and lack of food that caused these deaths," Butler County Deputy Dog Warden Jen Schwaller said.
As for the decapitated dog: "There could not be any determination on the cause of death of the severed head due to lack of specimen," the sheriff's office said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.
"I am beside myself," said Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones. "Owning one animal and treating it like trash is appalling, but this woman had four. I am disgusted that these poor animals suffered, and I am glad Ms. Jackson is behind bars."
A fifth dog, that was alive, was also discovered at the home. That dog, the warden said, had not been on the property very long.
The dog, named Sasha, is doing well and is now in the care of Joseph's Legacy rescue. The organization is taking donations for her care.
"It just breaks my heart to see her little ears in the shape that they're in and that she's thin and the thought that she was hungry and cold," Robin Rook with Joseph's Legacy said.
Officials said they called Jackson in and questioned her about the dog deaths on Friday. The warden said Jackson admitted that she had "fallen on hard times" and ran out of dog food and didn't know who to call for help.
She was arrested and is now facing three felony counts of cruelty to a companion animal.
Jackson spoke to FOX19 NOW about the charges and said that she has been struggling financially and has not been living at her home for several weeks because the electric was shut off. She claims that hardship led to the deaths of the dogs.
"I fed my kids. We eat the same thing for a couple of days, that's the truth, and then I fed what was left to the dogs," Jackson said. "I ran out of food, and you know, feeding them scraps, and maybe it wasn't enough food that they were getting."
Jackson admitted to FOX19 NOW that she did not do the right thing and said she takes responsibility for the dogs' deaths.
"I made a mistake by not calling anybody," she said. "I didn't even have the phone then."
She claims she did not decapitate a dog and even described herself as a lover of animals.
"I'm going through a hard time right now, and I made a stupid mistake, that's just what it boils down to," she said. "As far as me decapitating a dog or dismembering a dog, that would never happen, not even a dead dog would I do that to."
Despite Jackson's version of events, both investigators and rescuers said they stand by the charges and believe justice for the animals that lost their lives is important.
They also said they do not necessarily sympathize with Jackson because she could have and should have asked for help when it came to getting food for the animals. They encourage anyone who is struggling to provide for their pets to reach out to a local shelter, a local rescue or the dog warden for assistance.
They also said that if you see something that doesn't seem right, you should contact authorities.
To learn more about the surviving dog Sasha, or to donate to her care, contact Joseph's Legacy.