Man denies abuse of Chihuahua

A Newport Beach man accused of swinging a puppy around by its leash pleaded not guilty Thursday in Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana, leading the way to a trial setting conference next month.

Verne Joseph Strong, 56, is charged with felony cruelty to animals and faces up to four years in prison because of a previous burglary conviction. After a judge upheld the charges in September, Strong had to enter a plea again Thursday before attorneys could schedule a trial.

Authorities said Strong and his girlfriend, Angel Marie Holmes, 37, also from Newport Beach, were in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Westminster when witnesses saw Strong abuse their 8-month old Chihuahua named Meanie.

Strong used the dog's leash to swing it around by the neck like a lasso, prosecutors said. Witnesses called police who found the couple sleeping in their car with the dog. When the dog barked as the officer approached, Strong hit Meanie twice, this time with the officer seeing it, prosecutors said.

When an officer asked Holmes about the incident, she denied seeing any abuse and was arrested as an accessory after the fact. She faces three years in prison, if convicted, because she was convicted for the same burglary as Strong in 2008.

— Joseph Serna

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