SEBASTIAN, FL (WFLX) - A Treasure Coast animal activist was booked into jail after, he says, he tried to save a dog that had been left alone and in intense heat in a supermarket parking lot.
Indian River County S.P.C.A. President Van DeMars took cell phone video of the incident last week. "This is how dogs end up dying and getting sick," he can be heard saying on the recording. "He's panting," DeMars said of the dog. "This is what happens when they first start to get into heat stress."
Afternoon temperatures were above 90 degrees as, DeMars says, he stumbled upon the animal in a northern Sebastian Publix supermarket parking lot. The dog was tethered to an SUV and sitting on the asphalt with no owner in sight. "He was literally choking himself, trying to get under the car," said DeMars speaking a Tuesday, several days after the incident.
DeMars said he waited several minutes, but there was no sign of the dog's human companion. DeMars decided to act. "I made the decision that I'm going to un-click the leash and take him into the shade," he said.
He also called law enforcement. However, the dog owner, 83-year-old Robert Huffman of Sebastian, arrived first.
Huffman said he was not happy DeMars had untied and moved his 14-year-old male dog named Davey. Huffman said he has done this with his dog numerous times, and the animal was not in danger.
Investigators say Huffman had a water bowl for the dog and that the animal was on a 15 foot leash. Huffman said he was in the Publix store for about 30 minutes.
When asked if he did anything he should not have, DeMars said "No, absolutely not."
But Huffman, investigators and the Indian River County State Attorney's Office contend DeMars broke the law.
DeMars admits he withheld the dog from its owner.
Days after the incident, Indian River County Sheriff's Office deputies arrived at DeMars' home to arrest him and charge him with 2nd Degree Petit Theft -- a misdemeanor. Investigators said DeMars did not give the dog back to Huffman right away.
"If the price of that dog's safety and life was me going to jail and even facing further consequences than so be it," said DeMars, who does not regret his actions. DeMars is scheduled to appear in court later this month.
Huffman, Davey's owner, said the dog was in good condition the day of the incident and is in good condition now.