Police in Connecticut and Florida are looking for the woman believed to be behind a viral Facebook post showing a dog muzzled with electrical tape after being inundated with messages of outrage and concern.
A Facebook account under the user name "Katie Brown" posted a photograph Friday of a dog that looks like a chocolate lab with duct tape wrapped around its mouth and the message, "This is what happens when you dont (sic) shut up!!!"
Before the post was taken down, it was shared 375,708 times, as of 12:44 p.m. on Sunday, and sparked an outcry from animal lovers, including ones in Connecticut, criticizing the Facebook user who posted the image. The post, photo and Facebook account have not been authenticated. It has since been removed from the "Katie Brown" Facebook page.
A subsequent post, published only a minute later, attempted to justify the controversial image by explaining that the duct tape was only left on the dog for "a minute."
"Don't panic everyone it was only for a minute but hasnt barked since...POINT MADE!!! (sic)," the post said.
South Daytona Beach police initially told NBC Connecticut Saturday that the alleged incident was believed to have happened in Florida. Earlier, South Daytona city officials posted on Facebook that police didn't believe the woman in question to be at her local residence in Florida. They said police believed she lived in Torrington and later said she lives in Avon and that the incident happened there.
South Daytona Police Lt. Dan Dietrich later said the woman's legal name is Katharine F. Lemansky and that South Daytona police made contact with the woman's adult son, who lives in Florida, and confirmed that she was en route there Saturday. The son told police that he had last heard from her Saturday morning as she was passing through the Carolinas. He told police he believed she may have shut her cell phone off after getting threatening calls when her phone number began circulating online in connection to the Facebook post.
Dietrich said the woman's son told police she moved to Connecticut over a year ago and has been living in Avon with a boyfriend, possibly a fiancé. She no longer lives in South Daytona and doesn't own any vehicles registered in Florida, but the woman does have rental properties in the state, Dietrich said.
South Daytona police don't plan on taking any further action until they can speak with the woman believed to be behind the Facebook post from the "Katie Brown" account and check on her dog's well-being, as well as any other animals she may have.
Daytona animal control officials reported receiving tens of thousands of calls about the Facebook post, including calls from Canada and Australia.
South Daytona police, a department that covers a jurisdiction of four square miles, had to bring in 20 percent of their off-duty workforce to handle the high volume of calls about the Facebook photo of the dog, Dietrich said. The volume of calls about the alleged incident crashed their entire switchboard at one point.
"Please help us out by not flooding our emergency phone numbers, which may impact other emergency calls. We appreciate your concerns," city of South Daytona officials said.
Most recently, city of South Daytona officials posted Saturday evening on Facebook that the woman in question hasn't lived there for about one and a half years despite the fact that the Facebook page under her name says she lives there.
Avon police dispatchers have been bombarded with numerous calls about animal abuse over the holiday weekend as messages circulate on social media saying the Facebook user lives in Avon. They were still receiving so many calls about it on Saturday evening that they had to call in an extra dispatcher.
Avon Police Chief Mark Rinaldo said in a written statement that the "report of the abuse has been distributed via Facebook."
However, police said they responded to the "home of the alleged abuse and determined that the case did not occur in Avon." Police also said that the woman believed to be behind the "Katie Brown" Facebook account no longer lives in Avon and hasn't for awhile. It's unclear if that just pertains to legal residences. Many of the callers informed police that they were told to contact them.
"While we share your concern with the abuse of animals we want to assure all concerned individuals that we have fully investigated this case," Rinaldo said.
Avon police said they are monitoring for any further details about the current location of a woman going by "Katie Brown" and have been in contact with Florida authorities about the case because they believe she lives there.
Meanwhile, the Volusia County Sheriff's Office in Florida reported being "inundated with hundreds of Facebook messages" from across the country and world at its communications center.
"Please rest assured that we're aware of the photo and, as the dispatch center for all of Volusia County, have notified the appropriate local police department of the incident," the sheriff's office said. "We appreciate your concern for the welfare of all the members of our community! We've attempted to respond to as many individual messages as we can, but we hope this post will help put minds at ease in case we didn't reply to every last one. Have a great night and rest of your Thanksgiving weekend!"
The Facebook post was also brought to the attention of Torrington Animal Control officials and police in Connecticut, who said there is an animal cruelty investigation underway after being inundated with messages about the situation.
"Be assured that there is an active animal cruelty investigation in progress. We are taking this very seriously. Please don’t send further emails or messages as our email system is overwhelmed. We thank you for your help," Torrington Animal Control officials said on Facebook. ".... Thank you everyone for sending us info and links to help the Chocolate Lab. We are actively investigating this case and searching for the individual involved."
Just before 3 p.m. Saturday, Torrington Animal Control posted an update on Facebook, stating, "At this time our inbox is not currently working so please bear with us as we try to read through all of your messages. We are still diligently working on tracking down the owner who posted that dreadful picture to Facebook earlier this morning but it appears that she is no longer residing in Avon ... or Connecticut for that matter. All new, and pertinent information that we get is being immediately forward to Daytona PD as that is where the suspect is believed to be living/heading.
Thank you all for your concern for this animal."
The Facebook account under "Katie Brown" lists the woman as self-employed and a former Central Connecticut State University student, but that has not been confirmed.
A Change.org petition is circulating, asking Torrington, Avon and South Daytona police to charge the woman with animal abuse. As of 12:07 p.m. Saturday, it had garnered 27,099 supporters since its creation early Saturday morning.
"This is flagrant animal abuse," the petition says in part. "Please send a message to animal abusers all over that duct taping your animal's mouth is NOT a proper or ethical action to take in obedience training! We know that all authorities have been notified, we ask that you do not let her various locations stop you from holding her accountable for her actions. She defends her actions stating in her next post that it was only for 60 seconds and that the dog hasn't barked since."
South Daytona police said that if they verify the duct-tape incident with the dog occurred in Connecticut, then they would contact the police in the town where it occurred. It's unclear where exactly the alleged incident may have occurred.
"We just want to get eyes on her first and figure this whole situation out," Dietrich said.
City of South Daytona officials posted the city's Facebook page Sunday that they'll post any updates there about the "Facebook duct tape dog posting."