Judge Who Returned Cat In Abuse Case Explains Her Decision–And I Understand

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When I wrote the article this week about an animal abuse story out of the Florida Keys, I was heated. And with the facts that were available to the public, I understand why that was my immediate response. I knew that there were two sides to the story, just as with any story. But with the amount of animal abuses I see DAILY in this line of work, it can become a “hot button”. And many others felt the same way. One of those caring humans emailed the judge that presided over the case. And she received a response directly from the judge who didn’t hesitate to explain her decision!

After reading her reply defending her decision, I can understand why the cat was returned. 

It was one of our ameowzing supporters on the Cole and Marmalade Facebook page that initially sent the email.

Jena Dorrin, from Collingdale, Pennsylvania, was the advocate that reached out on the felines behalf. Toppy, the cat dragged behind the scooter in the video and another unnamed feline riding in the basket were at the forefront of her mind–and heart. He has been returned to the man arrested for the crime, Neptune Lester Hugo Steele, age 47.

So she emailed the judge in the case, Monroe County Judge Peary Fowler, giving her a piece of her mind. And surprisingly, it was less than 24-hours later when she received a response. From the judge herself!

After carefully reading Judge Fowler’s reply, she “pawsed” for a moment, (sorry, couldn’t help it.) What if we had all jumped to conclusions? Happens literally everyday, all over the world. 

But what makes us better people is listening closely, learning all we can, admitting when we are wrong and showing compassion for others.  

Jena knew we at Cole and Marmalade would want to read the reply too. We are not all-knowing, but happy to hear when a feline’s life isn’t at risk! After talking to Jena, we decided it was something everyone needed to hear so she agreed to let us share the update. Thank you Jena!!!

Admittedly, strong opinions were voiced about the judges decision, as well as Mr. Steele’s actions. And the judge didn’t have to reply at all. But she did, showing that her concern isn’t just for those in her courtroom. I want to thank, and apologize to her, for jumping to conclusions based on partial facts. 

Still, it’s hard as I question why Steele was at the residence in the first place. Is he engaging in criminal activities–with his cat crew? Was he so inebriated and that’s why he didn’t realize what had happened to Toppy?

If so, I pray he gets the help he needs and makes better choices. Yes, accidents CAN happen and forgiveness can be found. And I’ll try my hardest to trust that Judge Fowler’s decision is best for all parties involved. I truly hope from the bottom of my heart that it is. 

So what are your thoughts on her reply below?

Does Judge Fowler’s response help you to understand her decision? 

Response from Monroe County Judge Peary Fowler to Jena Dorrin, messaged to Cole and Marmalade Facebook page:

First of all, I want to thank you for being civic minded enough to voice your concerns over events you consider to be patently wrong. It is your right as an American citizen to do just that and I applaud you for taking the time.

I am writing, of course, in response to your correspondence to my office. I would like to clear up a few misgivings if you are at all interested in the truth about Mr. Neptune Steele’s case.

I can understand your concern about my decision based upon they way the article was written. I am sure I would feel the same as you if I had read the piece. In fact, when I took the bench to hear the SPCA’s Petition to Seize the Cat, I had thought I probably would be granting the Petition.


Before I start, I want you to know that the cat has made a remarkable and complete recovery.

But for loosing her nails, she is completely healed and doing great!

What you do not know is the following: Both cats are 9 years old and litter mates. They were and always have been in good health, up to date on shots etc. and the obsession of their owner, Mr. Steele. He adored the cats and thought of them as his children, his “legacy” (his words).

He loved them so much and hated leaving them home alone so he went about designing a carrier for them to put on the back of his scooter so he could take them where ever he went. The carrier worked quite well up until that night. As an added precaution he attached a leash to each cat and the carrier. [So] when he went to visit a friend or to a tiki-bar, he could let the cats out of the carrier so they could hang with them and not wander off too far.

He was known in the area as a character in that regard. Everyone knew how much he loved those furry guys. The tavern owners allowed him in with the cats. I took testimony from several people who testified to these facts as well a numerous letters from neighbors who corroborated the testimony. No testimony was placed before me that refuted it.

In the night in question Mr. Neptune went to a bar and had a few drinks.

He admitted to that. It should be noted that it is not against the law to have a drink and drive, you just can’t drink too much and drive.

SPCA presented no testimony as to how many drinks Mr. Steele consumed. Law Enforcement cannot charge a person with DUI if they don’t observe the behavior and the driving personally. There was no testimony that he had too much to drink only that he had the smell of alcohol on his breath.

Somehow Toppy was ejected from the scooter.

No one knows how it happened, only that it happened. It was caught on security video. It was horrible to watch the video. The scooter was loud and Mr. Steele had no idea his beloved cat was in such peril. When he got to his residence he found the poor bloody cat.

He immediately ran inside, woke up his roommate and the two immediately headed to the veterinary hospital thirty miles away. There he told the vet that the cat had been run over either because he was so mortified that he might have been responsible for these horrific injuries or just did not want the vet to know or really didn’t know.

Nonetheless, he stayed at the vets for most of the night and morning. The vets were able to stabilize the cat so he called a taxi to take him the 30 miles back to his home where he was met by the police. The person whose security video depicted the horror had called the police and the police figured out his location. The rest is history.

My job was to apply the facts to the law and determine if the SPCA had met it burden of showing that Mr. Steele intentionally harmed the animal and where to place the animal for its best care.

Mr. Steele was utterly contrite, truthful, took full responsibility and wept when he spoke about his being involved in injuring his pet.

My job is also to weigh the credibility of the witnesses. Witness after witness came voluntarily and testified on his behalf, each recounting examples demonstrating his devotion to the cats. I was swayed by his candor and those who testified on his behalf. Sometimes accidents happen.

Do you know anyone who has ever accidentally backed over a family pet or somehow unintentionally inflicted harm to one? This was one of those circumstances. It was not a popular decision but I am not paid to make popular decisions.

I know it was the right decision and I stand by it. I’m an avid animal lover. I have one dog, one cat and two birds and a big heart. I’ve removed animals in the passed when the circumstances have warranted it.

It should also be noted that in a separate action but based upon the same incident, the State of Florida charged him with Aggravated Animal Abuse.


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