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.

One of the Key West Hemingway polydactyl cats living on the island

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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  1. My husband ran over my cat thinking she would move and not thinking about her being deaf. Tragic and unfortunate. I blame myself some for not getting out and moving her as I thought about doing but didn’t do.

    • You both knew the cat was there, and instead of moving it, you ran over it. WTH? That’s not an accident. That’s cruel.

    • Your comment floors me. You both knowingly ran over the cat because she didn’t get out of your way? THAT IS NOT AN ACCIDENT. That is negligence and abuse. I hope you have no other pets.

  2. Am glad this was published as I
    I had taken down all the info, and was going to call on 8/19 and ask for some explanation for this apparent abuse with no proper punishment from Judge Fowler. Regardless of Mr Steele’s state of inebriation, why didn’t he notice that both cats were not in the basket at some point.? That is a point that I don’t understand, regardless of what his friends say about him and his usual good care of the cats. Wasn’t the basket in front of him? Perhaps it’s best to leave the cats at home if he plans to drink alcohol. How far was the cat dragged I wonder? Didn’t the cat make any noise to show it was hurt? Still some credible information was omitted.

    • Did you even read the whole article ? It’s all explained very clearly that the cat in question was behind him in a basket and fell out . He didn’t hear him because the scooter was very loud .The judge made the right call giving the cat back to him

  3. Accident’s can be happen if one is drunk. the fact that the Owner of the cat’s went straight to the vet shows that he cares for his cat’s . So I guess the Judge decision’s is okay. And the Cat’s return to their home will be in any way controlled. But neverless to take the cat’s with him on the scooter isn’t a good idea. Cat’s don’t have a problem to stay alone at home for a while but they don’t like to be moved out of there home. It is terrifying for a cat and not good for anything. He should not do that anymore. I hope the cat’s are well now and of course I also hope for the man not to have to much problems now because of this accident .I think he is a good man with doing a stupid thing and he surely should not be in further troubles. I wish Him and his cat’s a good life together without more problems.

  4. If you have ever ridden a scooter you will know how noisy they are, He was tipsy and it seems a very distressing accident. When I first read about this I felt like stringing him up however after having cats all my life and losing some to traffic accidents I can assure you they dont scream or make noises to let you know. He obviously cared for his cats and hopefully now has some sort of cat friendly lid on the box so they are safer. I think this poor man will remember the pain he caused his loved pet all his life.

  5. Elaine, I’m with you! At a minimum, the judge should have protected the cats from an irresponsible drunk. The cats must be left at home, when he goes out drinking! How long did it take for her pads to be ripped to shreds, and for her to lose all her claws?!?!? Not to mention being dragged by her neck! The agony caused to this cat is intolerable! Some changes have to be made in this mans life, if he’s going to keep ownership of ANY animals. When he’s sober, even he can see that! I’m so glad the state had the gumption to press charges!!!

    • Jan,
      you seemingly didn’t finish reading the article either. For the correct facts, see Betty’s response to Elaine, above.
      I do agree though that, in the future, Mr. Steele needs to either leave his cats at home, or, alternatively, replace his open scooter box with an enclosed box, cage, or carrier so this will never happen again.
      I also disagree with Monika. Not all cats are terrified of travel, &, since he regularly takes his cats with him, obviously his cats aren’t.

  6. much of ⬆️ the above comments are exemplary of the reason for the idiocracy theorie, (as some may be familiar with the story/production), and one good reason innocent people are afraid of jurys, end up taking pleas.
    to be blind /gullible enough to believe the media/socialmedia is true & accurate, & honest
    when the opposite is true, they exaggerate, embellish, make erroneous reports up in effort to make something, otherwise uninteresting, sensational.
    thought everybody knew that..(¿) come on , you think someone who dragged a cat would do so intentionally, then why take her to a vet after.? why then face the consequences when could of as easily disposed evidence.? why drive around on a loud ass scooter looking for things to steal, and bring 2 cats for the hunt.?
    makes no sense yall.
    the truths become convoluted..
    if any of you (obviously mostly fugazi facebook accounts) are dumb enough to believe it was anything other than accidental, is pathetic and sad.. your synopsis is based on sullied /inconsistent police reports , face book/twitter opinion/ static, & a 9sec reel.
    none of you know of the 9+ yrs, prior to the incident or the bond/chemistry between these cats and i, how it was my priority -getting them out for irma. , raised , loved, and cherished them all these years, those cats were my legacy, every body who knows me knew that.
    but what you believe is only what seen and heard/ what social media weak minded ppl want you to., what you don’t know you let biased morbid imagination fill in the blanks
    -the reason the judges ruling was ,cause she’s not stupid,
    and not one to be fooled.
    after hearing it all out, weighing all evidence ,
    she knew,
    could see it was an obvious mistake, & it’s doubtful any other monroe.co judge would’ve ruled any differently.
    to be clear, the courts ruling was not in agreement with the spca, or the sheriffs, both of which surely wanted to fry me. the prosecution, in this case, was compelled to wave the charge from felony down to municipal/misdemeanor degree, as it was clearly evident there was not malicious intent.
    – Get your facts straight first, then you can distort them as you wish

    – This cannot rightfully be compared to The pelican guy, he definitely intended/knew what he was doing and he was assaulting a federally protected animal, also he ran away from the situation ,unlike myself, and this WAS an isolated incident,

    yes I have a record,

    yes I have a past,

    many people have pasts , but I have NO record for violence at all in any form ,animals ,people or otherwise . it was an isolated incident .period.

    -– I was NOT out joy riding that night or looking for places to rob or animals to terrorize, my cats got loose, I retrieved them, enroute home ,did not realize the smaller of the two had fallen off in a turnaround,
    obviously I AM guilty of no less than criminal negligence, but what I’m really guilty of is being absent minded , having faulty judgment, & being severely irresponsible. But certainly not of malicious or sinister intent.

    really really dumb, indeed,
    a mistake that will haunt me the rest of my life no doubt, but not of felonious aggravated intent whatsoever.. i AM , in fact, paying major consequences; for those of you who think I’m not,
    I have been paying DEARLY. this is been a absolute roller coaster ride through hell . Also costing me any and all money I’ve made and continues to . The ongoing public badmouthing campaign/media onslaught and facebook trudgery keeping me from even finding adequate enough work supply to pay the associated fees and costs so i AM demonized , basically a pariah of sorts now , hated , looked down upon, or otherwise strongly disliked by the majority of the people of Monroe County and beyond,
    is a stigma that will likely never fade /go away
    i am systematically being squeezed out /starved out of the place where I was born. I am being prosecuted more by public opinion then the court system, and mocked &/or shunned by most of bigpine/all keys.
    the tribal Council is speaking and they’re voting me off the island.

    And as you can see, i live in complete fear that anytime now I may be in assaulted spontaneously by one or more of the vigilante witchhunt committee
    for those of you who do, or do not know me, & view my legal disposition as an injustice, it should be known; blame me (if you’re even sure what you’re blaming me for) but don’t blame the sheriffs department, they really wanted to fry me badly, and you can’t say that the judge concurred with SPCA because they wanted to fry me just as badly, and I’m sure the prosecution would’ve loved to as well , but realized it was not a friyable offense.

    Truth is your theories and logic are flawed at best.
    Not rational..

    How about get the facts straight before you go confronting judges ,and start making erroneous vicious statements , /derogatory vindictive outrageous comments, if you don’t know the truth, & are not involved, don’t get involved.

  7. How does a guy not get jail time for this…? Not to mention a guy with his rapp sheet burglarys in multiple states and multiple florida counties, cocaine possession and sale. Previous jail time ect going back over 20 yrs this is appalling. I livebin big pine key and I know Neptunr does he love his cats sure. That does not change the fact that his drug and alcohol problems make him a danger to everyone his pets included.

  8. Also he hss stated he has no history of violence but of his numerous arrests one is resisting arrest with violence and a multitube of withouts

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Written by JessiCAT

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