This article was originally published on by Madeleine O’Neill on Feb 28, 2018


The defendant is accused of starving two dogs and keeping them in an unheated house. One dog died.

An Erie man accused of starving two dogs waived his charges to court Wednesday and plans to apply for the county’s Veterans Court program, his lawyer said. One of the dogs died.

Robert E. Heath, 28, waived his preliminary hearing before Erie 5th Ward District Judge Paul Bizzarro on four third-degree felony counts of aggravated cruelty to animals, two misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals and six misdemeanor counts of neglect of animals.

Heath plans to apply for Erie County’s Veterans Court program, said his lawyer, Stephen Sebald. Veterans Court diverts qualified defendants into intensive treatment and supervision.

Assistant Erie County District Attorney Jessica Lasley said her office has no plans to block Heath’s application for Veterans Court.

“At this time we’re not intending to oppose, but obviously we need to take into consideration the severe pain and suffering the dogs went through,” Lasley said.

Sebald also said Heath is receiving intensive treatment for mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

This is “truly a case of just poor decision-making brought on by severe mental illness coupled with PTSD,” Sebald said.

Cruelty officers with the Humane Society of Northwestern Pennsylvania launched an investigation after they said Heath brought an emaciated black Labrador retriever to the Humane Society to turn the dog over to the agency in late December.

Heath claimed the dog was a stray that had been living under the porch of his house on Pine Avenue, according to the affidavit of probable cause filed with the complaint.

A veterinarian who later examined the dog said it weighed 26 pounds and should weigh about 50 pounds, according to the affidavit.

Heath also said that there was a second dog that showed up as a stray, but that the dog had died earlier that day, investigators said. Heath later brought the deceased dog, a severely emaciated black-and-white pit bull, to the Humane Society, according to the affidavit.

A later check of Heath’s house by investigators found that there was no heat in the house and that a cat was kept in an enclosed room, according to the affidavit.

Heath later admitted that the dogs were his and said he did not have money to buy them food, the affidavit states.

The Labrador retriever, named Gunner, is now living with a foster family through the Humane Society, said Nicole Bawol, the agency’s executive director.

“He is continuing to put on healthy weight and is incredibly happy in his foster home,” Bawol said in an email. “With the help of our veterinarian, staff and amazing foster family, he is weighing a healthy 52 pounds.”

Heath is free on $5,000 bail.