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A Dog Owner Couldn't Afford Her Pet's Treatment; Now She's In An Immigration Detention Center

Maria Flores thought she was doing the right thing when she surrendered her dog, Muffy, to Dallas Animal Services. The 10-year-old Maltese needed medical treatment, but she couldn’t afford to pay for it.

That visit led Dallas County Sheriff's deputies to arrest Flores five months later. Now, she’s in an immigration detention center, facing a felony and possible deportation.

It all started with a trip to the vet in January. Flores and her husband took Muffy to Metro Paws Animal Hospital in Oak Cliff. According to vet records provided to KERA, the dog had been limping on his rear left leg for two days and an area on that leg was irritated.

The vet noted he was “bright, alert and responsive” but had “severe matting over entire body” that was “worst on pelvic limbs.” He also had a laceration on the left pelvic limb.

The vet instructed Flores to return with Muffy a couple of days later. The treatment plan included radiographs of the hind legs, sedating the dog, shaving him, repairing the laceration, an antibiotic injection, and pain medication.

But the treatment plan was costly, according to Belinda Arroyo, Flores’ attorney.

“The amount that the vet was wanting to charge them to do the work was something they could not afford,” Arroyo said. “So they did not take the dog back to the vet … because they couldn’t afford to.”

By March, Muffy’s condition hadn’t improved, so the couple decided to take the dog to Dallas Animal Services, the city’s animal shelter. According to the police affidavit, the dog was “surrendered and taken to the medical team.” A vet who works for the shelter examined Muffy.

“The dog was found to have matting on its leg with the left rear leg and paw swollen and maggots crawling from the area near the mat on its leg,” according to the affidavit.

The vet noted the matted hair “appeared to have caused complete tearing of the Achilles tendon” and also muscle loss. The vet contacted two animal cruelty detectives with the Dallas Police Department. After seeing the dog, the detectives determined the dog’s injuries should be investigated and reached out to the SPCA.

According to the police affidavit, a vet with the SPCA examined and treated Muffy, but after a week, he didn’t get better. So Muffy’s left rear leg was amputated.

KERA reached out and spoke with one of the animal cruelty detectives, who said she couldn’t comment on the case because it’s still an open investigation.

On Aug. 11, Dallas County Sheriff deputies arrested Maria Flores at her Dallas home, five months after she and her husband gave Muffy to Dallas Animal Services.

Flores, 54, was booked in Dallas County Jail and charged with animal cruelty, something her attorney, Arroyo, said should not have happened.

“It almost seems like they’re being punished for not having enough money because it was certainly not from lack of wanting to take care of the dog or else they would have just let it die or not even taken it to the vet,” Arroyo said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Flores, who’s undocumented, now faces a felony, and if convicted could spend up to 10 years in prison and be deported to her native Mexico when she’s released.

About a week ago, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement picked her up from jail, where she had an immigration hold, and took her to Bluebonnet Detention Facility in Anson, about three hours west of Dallas.

Friends of Flores say they’re shocked she ended up in immigration detention. Luis Contreras, executive director of Templo Betania, Flores' church, describes her as a faithful, lovely person.

“I am upset, you know. Because there’s people that do worse and they’re punished lightly, yet this woman that had no previous convictions now she was placed in a situation where she was separated from her son, the husband.”

Flores and her husband lived with Dora Elia Martinez when they first arrived in the U.S. She’s known the family for more than two decades and said Flores is like a daughter to her.

“It can’t be,” Martinez said. They’re committing many injustices and it’s unfortunate that where people go seek help, they’re attacked.”

According to Flores’ husband, one of the police detectives threatened to put the couple in jail. Arroyo, Flores’ attorney, said they shouldn't have been treated that way.

“If you’re going to have these agencies or these vets working with communities of people who are undocumented then they should be more sensitive to the fact that some of these people can’t afford to care for their pets so why not offer alternatives instead of throwing them in jail,” she said.

Arroyo said there’s a disconnect between the agencies charged with protecting animals and the families who may need help caring for their pets.

As for Muffy, he recovered and, according to the SPCA, has since been adopted.

Got a tip? Email Stella M. Chávez at schavez@kera.org. You can follow Stella on Twitter @stellamchavez.

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Copyright 2020 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Stella Chávez is KERA’s education reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35. The award-winning entry was  “Yolanda’s Crossing,” a seven-part DMN series she co-wrote that reconstructs the 5,000-mile journey of a young Mexican sexual-abuse victim from a small Oaxacan village to Dallas. For the last two years, she worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where she was part of the agency’s outreach efforts on the Affordable Care Act and ran the regional office’s social media efforts.