Police in Connecticut and Florida have been inundated with messages of outrage and concern over a Facebook post showing a dog muzzled with duct tape that has gone viral on social media.
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. The image was captioned with the message: "This is what happens when you dont (sic) shut up!!!" According to the page, the woman lives in South Daytona, Florida. It is not clear if the photo is Brown's.
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."
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"Don't panic everyone it was only for a minute but hasnt barked since...POINT MADE!!! (sic)," the caption read.
The post was shared over 280,000 times by Saturday afternoon and has sparked an outcry from animal lovers criticizing the Facebook user who posted the image. The post and photo have not been authenticated.
South Daytona Beach police initially told NBC Connecticut that the alleged incident was believed to have happened in Florida but that the woman wasn't at her residence in the state. They also said she may live in Torrington, Connecticut.
South Daytona Police Lt. Dan Dietrich later said they made contact with the woman's adult son, who lives in Florida, and he confirmed the his mother moved to Connecticut over a year ago and has been living in Avon with a boyfriend, possibly a fiancé. She doesn't own any vehicles registered in Florida but does have rental properties in the state, Dietrich said.
The son also said his mother is en route back to Florida and was passing through the Carolinas Saturday morning. Her son told police he hasn't heard from her and believes 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.
According to police, the legal name of the woman they are looking to speak with is different than the one listed on the Facebook account.
South Daytona police said they don't plan on taking any further action until they can speak with the woman believed to be behind the Facebook post 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, said they 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. According to the department, their entire switchboard crashed at one point after being overwhelmed with calls about the alleged incident
"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 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 say they have been bombarded with numerous calls about the controversial post over the holiday weekend as well, as messages circulated on social media reporting the Facebook user also lives in the town.
However, police responded to the "home of the alleged abuse and determined that the case did not occur in Avon," city officials said. They also said that the woman whose name is on the account no longer lives in Avon and hasn't for awhile.
"While we share your concern with the abuse of animals we want to assure all concerned individuals that we have fully investigated this case," Avon Police Chief Mark Rinaldo said.
Avon police said they have closed the investigation at this time and have contacted 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 has also been brought to the attention of Torrington Animal Control officials in Connecticut, who said there is an animal cruelty investigation underway after being flooded with messages about the incident.
"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 their "inbox is not currently working" and requesting patients while they "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," the post read.
The woman whose name is on the Facebook account hasn't been located at this time. The Facebook account lists Brown as self-employed and a former Central Connecticut State University student, but that has not been confirmed.
A Change.org petition began circulating online, asking Torrington, Avon and South Daytona police to charge the woman with animal abuse. It has garnered over 25,000 supporters since its creation early Saturday morning.
South Daytona police said that if they verify the duct-tape incident with the dog occurred, then they would contact the police in the town where it occurred.
"We just want to get eyes on her first and figure this whole situation out," Dietrich said.