On December 22, 2019, a crowd in Miami Beach looked on in horror as a man punched and choked a dog, banged the black Labrador mix's head against a pickup truck, and used the dog's leash to drag him across a sidewalk on Ocean Drive.
Videos of the abuse captured the frantic screams of people yelling at the man to stop hurting the dog. Witnesses heard the man say he was going to kill the dog because "he had it coming to him," according to police reports. A tourist from Alabama tackled the man to the ground and, along with several others, detained him until police arrived.
The man, Louis Sepulveda, was arrested on a felony charge of aggravated animal cruelty. His criminal case is ongoing, and he's scheduled for a plea hearing later this month. But his dog, Leroy, is safe now — a year later, the lab has been adopted by a family in Plantation. He goes by Roy now.
"When we met him, we said, 'This has to be the right fit for us and for him,'" says MaryRuth Briggs, who adopted Roy along with her husband, Mark Briggs, and their 11-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. "I think we all knew right away that Roy was the next part of the family, that he was what we were missing. The house feels complete with him in it."
These days Roy has a bed in almost every room of the house. He goes for several walks a day, loves to watch ducks swim in the neighborhood canal, and pouts when Elizabeth departs for school every morning.
"It's like we've had Roy our entire life," MaryRuth reports. "He's so well-behaved, and he just seems to fit in instantly."
After he was taken into custody in 2019, Roy spent a couple of weeks at a county animal shelter. Kathleen Labrada, assistant director of Miami-Dade Animal Services, says he was infected with heartworm and ticks but wasn't seriously injured from the beating.
"Thankfully, he didn't sustain long-term injuries from that," Labrada says. "[But] the lack of physical evidence on the dog isn't to say he didn't suffer. He was subjected to unnecessary pain and suffering repeatedly at the hands of his owner."
The county filed a lawsuit against Sepulveda in December to secure permanent custody of the Lab, arguing in a court filing that Sepulveda is "absolutely unfit" to care for a dog or any other animal. Sean Gallagher, an animal-services enforcement supervisor, says Sepulveda voluntarily surrendered the dog.
The county released Roy to Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida, a Pompano-based volunteer organization that rescues and rehabilitates Labs. Mary Westerlind and her husband fostered Roy for more than a year before the Briggses adopted him. Westerlind says Roy was in bad shape for a while — he was sick from the heartworm and sometimes vomited blood. Westerlind says Roy could be a little "dominant" toward the other dogs she fostered at her home. The rescue organization brought in a trainer to teach Roy how to play nice with his siblings, but he's always been great with people.
"For a dog that went through everything he went through, he never, ever had a problem with people," Westerlind tells New Times. "Every person who ever walked through our door, stranger or not, he loved."
Roy's bulgy eyes, flipped ear, and cartoonish flexibility brought joy to his foster and adoptive families, too. Westerlind says experiencing Roy's resilience has been touching.
"It's unbelievable how most [dogs] are able to bounce back from incredibly horrible things," she says. "I'm sure there was more that went on that we don't know about. He's a prime example of how much love they have to give. All he wants is to snuggle up with you, be a noodle on your couch, go for walks, and be with you. And a little bit of food."
In his new home, Roy quickly caught on to his family's morning ritual. He sleeps in MaryRuth and Mark's room. After their second alarm a little after 6 a.m., he goes for his first walk of the day, about 1.6 miles around the neighborhood.
When it's time for Elizabeth to wake up for school, MaryRuth tells Roy they're going to her room. He zooms to her door and sniffs around her bed in search of an extended hand. Elizabeth pets and fusses over him a little, then gets ready for class. Roy usually whimpers at the door for a while after she or MaryRuth leaves the house.
"Dad is chopped liver," Mark jokes.
Mark says Roy asked to jump on the furniture one time. The couple told him he wasn't allowed to, and he never tried it again. The family has noticed a little bit of Roy's trauma based on the abuse he experienced. For instance, he backs away if someone raises their voice even slightly or if he thinks he's going to be punished for something.
"He doesn't like to not please," Mark says. "I would imagine a lot of that comes from how he was treated before. If he barks at other dogs or pulls on his leash now and again, he looks at you with the most sorrowful eyes. He still has that level of anxiety. But he's a dog, and he's going to behave like a dog behaves."
Mark and MaryRuth say they're careful at times when they have to say no to him or correct a particular behavior.
"You have to do it in a way that he doesn't cower," Mark says. "I think that's his first response. He knows when he has displeased you. He really does know it. So we try to change those little quirky things in a positive way rather than in a negative way."
With just a few weeks in his new home, the Briggses say Roy has shown them a lot of love, and they're doing the same in return for him.
"He needs human contact," MaryRuth says. "He needs to know you love him."
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