Police in Avon, Connecticut have been inundated with phone calls and emails from people concerned over a Facebook post showing a dog muzzled with electrical tape that has gone viral and said they actively investigating the case.
“Everybody is trying to get a hold of her!” Avon Police Lt. Kelly Walsh said.
Walsh said Avon police are looking to speak with a Facebook account holder who uses the name "Katie Brown" and is accused of posting a photograph on her Facebook wall Friday of a dog that looks like a chocolate lab with electrical tape wrapped around its mouth and the message, "This is what happens when you dont (sic) shut up!!!"
The post, photo and Facebook account have not been authenticated, but the post was shared hundreds of thousands of times between the time it went up on Friday and the time the post was pulled down on Sunday.
That post prompted outrage from animal lovers, who inundated police in Avon and Torrington, Connecticut and Florida authorities with messages about the picture of the dog.
South Daytona police launched an investigation at 7:19 p.m. on Friday after the department received numerous calls referencing a woman going by the name "Katie Brown" posting a photo of a chocolate lab with its mouth duct-taped shut on Facebook.
Lt. Dan Dietrich, of South Daytona police, said the woman's legal name is Katharine F. Lemansky.
Police in South Daytona have been in contact with her adult son, who lives in South Daytona, Florida. He told them his mother moved to Connecticut over a year ago and has been living in Avon with a boyfriend, possibly a fiancé, Dietrich said. He told police Friday that she was staying in North Carolina and was headed down to his place in Florida, where he expected she'd be in a few days. Her son told investigators he didn't know where she was at the time the Facebook post.
Meanwhile, back in Connecticut, Avon police have also been flooded with calls and had to bring in an additional dispatcher over the weekend to help handle them.
Walsh said that Avon police went to the "so-called residence" that police believe she was associated with in the town, but that "she has not been there" and police are unclear on "the last time she actually was at the home."
NBC Connecticut also went to the house, but no one answered the door.
Anna Redlica, a neighbor, said "Why do you own a pet if you cannot take care of the pet properly? If you can't do it, just don’t do it, you know."
Avon police released a follow-up statement about the case on Monday, saying they are pursuing leads and thank people for their concerns.
“We have received an outpouring of telephone calls and e-mail about the recent Facebook posting of a dog with its mouth duct-taped closed. We thank everyone for their concern. The Avon Police Department Animal Control Officer is actively investigating this case and we want to assure you that we take all cases of animal abuse very seriously,” a statement from Avon Police said.
Avon and Torrington police are working with police in South Daytona, Florida to find Brown and determine the status of her dog and determine which department has jurisdiction. Police said it appears that the Facebook user going by "Katie Brown" appears to have traveled south for the holidays.
The Facebook user's profile says she lives in South Daytona, leading to a flood of calls and messages to police and city officials there. The city of South Daytona has been updating the public about developments in the investigation and said that its Facebook postings reached 1.4 million people and that they received over 19,000 comments and 600 messages. The police department brought in 20 percent of its off-duty workforce to help handle calls over the weekend. The police department was receiving so many calls at one point that their switchboard for emergency calls shut down.
"Our Department continues to actively investigate this case. We have determined that Katie Brown’s real name is Katharine Lemansky," South Daytona Police Chief Ron Wright said. "Because Lemansky owns property in both Florida and Connecticut, it is difficult to determine where she is actually living at this time. We continue to keep in contact with Connecticut authorities. The local property in South Daytona appears vacant and is currently under code enforcement action."
He stressed that "this case is a high priority" to South Daytona police and that it "will be handled as would any other criminal investigation."
"At this time we do not know Lemansky’s location, but will continue to follow all leads," Wright said. "The Department has reached out to Lemansky’s family and friends and requested that if they have contact with her, that they urge her to bring the dog into the nearest police station so that the well-being of the animal can be determined. Once Lemansky and the dog have been located, the case will be reviewed and applicable charges as allowed by law will be filed."
Police also tracked down an address in Daytona Beach ciculating on Facebook that stated "Brown," or Lemansky, may be living there, but when authorities in that jurisdiction checked it out and tried to contact her, they were unable to find a woman named Katie Brown residing there.
Daytona Animal Control reported getting tens of thousands of messages and calls from around the world, as far as Canada and Australia, about the Facebook post of the tape-muzzled dog.
Online outrage over the post has also affected at least one business in Simsbury, Connecticut that reported being unfairly targeted with criticism over an employee's alleged association with the woman accused of posting the photo of the tape-muzzled dog.
South Daytona police also have tried to make contact with the woman in question, calling her phone number, which was circulating on social media. However, attempts to reach her have been unsuccessful. Her son has been instructed to call them when she gets to Florida.
Police in Connecticut and Florida are asking Brown/Lemansky to make contact with them so they can clarify the facts of what actually happened.
No criminal charges have been filed at this time.