Man charged with cruelty after dog found with rusty collar grown into its neck

A Polk County man was charged with felony cruelty to an animal after deputies said he allowed a dog’s collar to cut into its neck and let the injury fester for so long that skin grew over the collar, embedding it in the animal’s neck.

Four other dogs were rescued from Fernandez Gunter’s Winter Haven home.

One was found dead and three malnourished puppies were rescued, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. One of the puppies was later euthanized.

Deputies arrested Gunter, 51, Wednesday.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, deputies and an animal control officer were called to Gunter’s home at 2149 28th St in December after a neighbor tipped off animal control to dogs being mistreated in the yard and said she smelled something dead. She said one dog’s collar had begun cutting into its neck several months ago.

Deputies said they arrived to find five dogs in a fenced-in yard. A black and white female dog was chained to a fence with an open wound on its neck. Deputies said it appeared that the chain and collar were embedded into the dog’s wound. A gray male was tied to a cinder block near a dog house in a smaller enclosure.

Deputies said all of the dogs seemed malnourished with no food or water in sight and their hip and rib bones prominent. Another puppy was dead and bloated, laying in the open near the fenced-in pen, deputies said.

Deputies said they were able to contact Gunter’s wife, who told them she doesn’t like dogs and never goes into the yard. She agreed to surrender the animals to the Sheriff’s Office.

Deputies said they later contacted Gunter himself, who said one puppy had died the night before and he was treating the rest with worming medicine. He said the injured dog with the embedded collar had only been like that for a few weeks. He said he couldn’t catch the dog to take the collar off.

Veterinarians with animal control found the dogs to be flea-infested and said the black and white dog’s wound looked to be months old. Animal Control officials said as she grew, the chainlink collar dug into her skin and cut a rut around her neck. As skin grew and tried to heal, it grew around the collar, even growing in between the chain’s links.

Doctors couldn’t remove the collar and had to perform surgery, allowing them to safely cut the collar from the dog’s neck. Once removed, it was found to be covered in dirt, rust and blood. Doctors said the embedded collar created excessive and repeated infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering for the dog.

The two surviving puppies were adopted, and the adult female will be available for adoption once it heals.

Gunter now faces one felony charge of cruelty to an animal. He was booked into Polk County jail Wednesday and released on $1,000 bail.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, Gunter’s criminal history includes 10 felony and nine misdemeanor charges ranging from weapons and drug offenses to grand theft auto.

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