Florida Man Accused Of Stealing Car, Then Leaving Disabled Dog To Die In Backseat

The search for Zorra, a 13-year-old dog that used a wheelchair to get around, has reached a tragic conclusion.

By Sharon Lynn Pruitt

A Florida man has been arrested for allegedly stealing a car and leaving a disabled dog, who was in the car when it was stolen, to die in the backseat.

Police took Jephthe Jean Francois, 19, into custody in the Wilton Manors area on Wednesday, NBC Miami reports. He was booked on more than a dozen charges, including grand theft auto, burglary, and animal cruelty, Broward Sheriff's Office online records show.

Jean Francois is alleged to have stolen a 2005 Volvo while it was parked outside of a Dollar Tree store on Oct. 3, according to NBC Miami. The car’s owner, Wanda Ferrari, had left her 13-year-old disabled dog, Zorra, to rest in the backseat while she went inside, according to another report from the outlet. When she returned to the parking lot, both her car and her dog were gone, prompting a search by local animal rescue groups, one of whom offered a $3,000 reward for the animal’s safe return.

Ferrari’s car was recovered on Monday night when a towing company picked it up because it was parked illegally in front of an apartment complex. Zorra’s body was in the backseat, and while authorities are still awaiting the results of a necropsy, officials with the sheriff’s office believe the shepherd-husky mix died after suffering heat stroke, NBC Miami reports.

Jephthe Jean Francois Pd

Officers with the Wilton Manors Police Department arrested Jean Francois on Wednesday on charges connected to an unrelated series of break-ins and another stolen car, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports. After he was arrested, authorities reportedly found the key to Ferrari’s car in another vehicle Jean Francois allegedly stole.

Jean Francois, who chose to represent himself rather than accept the services of a public defender, made his first appearance in court on Thursday. Assistant State Attorney Eric Linder said during that hearing that Zorra likely suffered before her death, the paper reports.

“He stole the vehicle, he discarded the vehicle, leaving this dog stranded to its own devices locked in the car,” Linder said. “When the car was later found, the dog was found unfortunately deceased and what I can only imagine greatly suffered.”

Zorra used a pink wheelchair to walk because her hind legs were paralyzed and her front legs did not work, according to CBS Miami. When Ferrari left her companion in the car on Oct. 3, she was resting on a pillow with the air conditioning on.

Ferrari previously said that Zorra had been with her during her battles with breast cancer, WPLG Local 10 News reports.

“I really needed Zorra to go through this bout of cancer with me,” she told the station after Zorra was stolen. “She’d been through the last one with me, but they said they were doing everything that they possibly could and would continue to do what they definitely could do to make sure this person comes to justice.”

During Thursday’s court appearance, a judge ordered Jean Francois to be held without bond, according to the Associated Press.

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