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False Facebook post about Newport animal neglect prompts widespread outcry

A photo and story shared on Facebook about a dog in Newport that supposedly was being beaten or starved has generated a flood of messages and phone calls to city officials this week.

There is one problem: those who believed the dog was being mistreated barked up the wrong tree.

The false description of a sickly pit bull mix named Mercedes started Tuesday when two tree trimmers saw “a severely emaciated dog” laying in the grass and assumed abuse or neglect, a police report said. One trimmer posted a photo on Facebook and it went viral.

“You wouldn't believe how it spread,” Newport City Council member Steven Gallagher said of the post.

Gallagher said he and fellow council members were hit by a barrage of emails from people around the world concerned the city wasn’t helping the dog.

Gallagher said he received approximately 1,000 emails in less than 48 hours. There were phone calls at 3 a.m. Gallagher said the messages he received included threats against him, including the threatened kidnapping of his dog.

“We’re all getting calls about it,” he said, calling it “social media at its worst.”

Gallagher said he is telling people they don’t know the full story.

“The dog wasn’t abused,” Gallagher said.

According to the police report, the 13-year-old dog had Cushing’s disease and had been undergoing treatment since fall 2012.

Police got involved on Tuesday after the tree trimmers approached the yard where the dog was located and then got into a verbal confrontation with the dog’s owner, Newport resident Teresa Bradley.

Upon investigation, Bradley showed police the sick dog, and said her son was having a difficult time dealing with the dog’s worsening condition.

The report said the son “was clearly not neglecting the dog as he was feeding the dog cooked steak by hand and he was physically taking the dog outside to go to the bathroom.”

The officer also noted several dog dishes around the home filled with fresh water.

In addition to the false information about the dog, the Facebook post also included the wrong home address of the dog owner, Gallagher said, and the people who lived in the home that was listed were concerned because they have seen suspicious cars driving by their property.

As the fictional story spread on Facebook, the family ultimately decided to euthanize the dog because it was in such poor health.

Jonathan Woodman, veterinarian at Town and County Veterinary Services in Hastings, was aware of Mercedes’ condition and confirmed the dog was not abused.

“I do want to make clear that (the family) did work with us over the past year to diagnose and treat (the) dog,” he wrote in a letter, adding the dog “responded very poorly to treatment.”

Woodman also reported that he did not consider the family to have been neglectful of Mercedes, a conclusion the Newport police support.

Police Chief Curt Montgomery said the city has dealt with “generic animal neglect cases” in the past but nothing that has gone viral on social media..

Scott Wente contributed to this story.