A Marine from Beaufort's Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) faces several felony charges of animal cruelty for reportedly neglecting five pets she was hired to watch during a Hilton Head man's vacation, leaving one dog to die of starvation after not visiting the owner's house for a five-day period.
Victoria Marie Spencer, 20, was arrested Thursday morning at MCAS Beaufort and released on bond just a few hours later, said Maj. Angela Viens, a spokesperson for the Beaufort County Sheriff's office.
Spencer was hired via the online pet-sitting service Trusted Housesitters to watch two dogs and three cats belonging to the islander, who lives in Hilton Head Plantation, Viens said. Investigators say the woman agreed to pet-sit for a nine-day period in the beginning of September, with regular visits to the home to feed the animals and let the dogs out of their kennels.
After not hearing from Spencer a few days into his vacation, the homeowner checked the footage from his doorbell camera at the home's front entrance — only to discover Spencer appeared not to have visited the house for the past five to six days, according to Viens. He frantically phoned a neighbor, who checked the house to find the animals in a heart-rending state of neglect.
Both dogs' kennels were "cluttered with feces" and tattered bedding, according to a Sheriff's Office report, and one dog had died due to a lack of food and water. The other was suffering visible hair loss, with injuries to its snout, paws and nails from trying to escape its cage, Viens said. The dogs had reportedly been left for over five days, with food and water in their direct line of sight from the kennels.
Left to roam inside the house, the homeowner's cats were not visibly injured but had also not been fed or checked on, police say. Their litter box was "completely full," with feces and urine found throughout the house.
Using the doorbell footage as evidence, Sheriff's Office investigators charged Spencer with five counts of animal cruelty — three misdemeanor counts for the cats, and two felony counts for the dogs.
"We are incredibly sorry to hear of this terrible incident," a spokesperson from Trusted Housesitters wrote in a statement to The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette Friday morning. "We have offered our deepest condolences and our fullest support to the owners and we are liaising with the Sheriff's Office to provide whatever assistance we can in their investigation."
The statement emphasized that pet safety is the company's "absolute priority" and that team members will be reviewing the incident "to ensure that our systems and vetting procedures are as strong as possible."
According to their website, Trusted Housesitters requires all sitters to complete an intensive background check, including criminal history, ID checks, external references and email and phone validation. Spencer's account on the site could not be found and appears to have been removed.
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