HARFORD COUNTY, Md. (WJZ) — An 81-year-old great-grandmother is placed behind bars for a minor pet violation committed nearly a year ago. The Harford County woman says she tried paying thousands of dollars in fines but couldn't afford them.
As Gigi Barnett explains, the senior citizen says her punishment doesn't fit the crime.
Mary Magdalene Root's small dogs are her constant companions. So much so that the 81-year-old widow spent two nights in the Harford County Detention Center fighting to keep them.
"I've never had a crime. Never. Not even a traffic ticket," Root said.
Back in May, Root says her pets somehow got loose from her yard several times.
A neighbor took pictures of the dogs running down the street and reported her to Animal Control.
The agency slapped Root with a $7,000 fine or she could spend nearly a year in jail.
"I'm struggling to pay my house taxes. I couldn't pay it. It's a different thing when you leave your dogs out and you don't care. But I do care," Root said.
But when the cancer survivor failed to show up at court on her doctor's orders, a judge had Root arrested.
She was booked, fingerprinted and issued a striped jumpsuit. She waited to see a judge in a cell without her cancer medication.
"I sort of clutched my Bible. And was crying and went to sleep," Root said.
Root's defense attorneys asked the judge to let the senior citizen go. She had no previous criminal history and she was in failing health. The judge said no. Instead, he ordered her to pay a $2,500 bail. And if she was able to pay it and get out, then no animals would be allowed back on her property.
"She gave me the works. I feel like I'm a criminal, but yet I don't feel like I've done anything," Root said.
Then on the second night, a Good Samaritan paid the bond.
"There are very nice people out there. But then there are some people who are so struck on the strictness of the law. I don't know whether maybe that needs to be looked at," Root said.
But now she can't go back to her home of 44 years. Under the judge's orders, the dogs aren't allowed. But Root says she can't give them up.
"I love them," she said. "I was planning on coming down on the dogs. But my dogs, they keep my company and I love them."
Root says she's had an outpouring of support from people in the community. In fact, there's a petition asking lawmakers to make cases like this a little more lenient for senior citizens.
"I don't know if I'll ever be the same. I can't pull myself back," Root said.
Root says she was taking care of her daughter's four dogs at the time of her arrest. A good Samaritan paid the $250 bond to get Root out of jail.
Harford County District Judge Mimi Cooper ruled Root cannot keep her dogs on her property until her case is decided.
A petition to help Root keep her dogs has been set up. To sign, click here.
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