Man accused of abusing puppy

A Newport Beach man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a felony animal cruelty charge that he hit, kicked and swung an 8-month old puppy around by the neck, using its leash like a lasso.

Verne Joseph Strong, 56, was arrested Sunday in a Westminster Wal-Mart parking lot after witnesses called police to report the alleged abuse, according to a news release from the Orange County district attorney's office. He entered his plea in the West Justice Center, an Orange County Superior Court in Westminster.

About 6:45 p.m., Strong and his girlfriend, Angel Marie Holmes, 37, of Newport Beach, were arguing in the store parking lot, authorities said. While they fought, Strong opened the trunk to their car, and took out their 8-month-old, 8-pound Chihuahua-dachshund mix puppy, Meanie, which had been locked inside, prosecutors said.

Strong is accused of then swinging Meanie around by the leash, which was wrapped around her neck, before throwing the dog to the ground. He then allegedly kicked the dog so hard it slid under the car.

Witnesses called police and when they arrived, they found Strong and Holmes sleeping inside their car with the dog, prosecutors said.

Meanie started barking when the officer approached the car, according to police. The officer watched as Strong allegedly turned and hit the dog, knocking it down motionless and momentarily stunned, authorities said.

As he got out of the car to talk to police, Strong hit the dog again, prosecutors said.

Strong was arrested at the scene. Prosecutors said Holmes lied to police to cover up the abuse. She is being charged with accessory after the fact and is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 16.

Each faces lengthier sentences if convicted — Strong could get four years and Holmes three — because of a shared 2008 burglary conviction. Strong is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing Aug. 16.

Meanie survived and was taken to the humane society in Huntington Beach.

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