Woman accused of lying about finding an emaciated dog and dead puppies in Berks [Update]

May 25—The story that Bryanna Wagner told was tragic, the kind that pulls on the heartstrings of animal lovers.

It turns out it wasn't true, according to police.

The Bern Township woman claimed she was driving along Belleman's Church Road in Centre Township on May 7 when she came across an abandoned, emaciated dog. Wagner said she immediately went into "rescue mode," rushing the dog to her home before finding an emergency veterinarian where she could take her.

Through Zoe's House Rescue in Sinking Spring, Wagner was able to connect with Pet Emergency and Treatment Specialties in Lancaster.

The dog, later named Sadie by animal rescue workers, was rushed there for help but wound up having to be euthanized four days later. She suffered complications following treatment for severe infections.

Making the story even more gut-wrenching, a grocery bag filled with six dead puppies was found near where Sadie was discovered. Wagner claimed she found the bag when she returned to the scene after being told by animal rescue workers that it appeared Sadie recently had given birth.

"I'm not sure what made me want to look at it, but I opened it up and I looked at it," Wagner told the Reading Eagle a few days after the incident, pausing with emotion. "There were six puppies inside, and they were all deceased. This was a shock, and honestly, it's pretty traumatic. I just can't imagine a person that has a heart, soul, that did something like this."

It turns out, Wagner was the one that did it, state police said.

Wagner, 23, of the 1000 block of Mill Road has been charged in the incident. Court documents allege that she had owned Sadie — who she called Lilly — and made up the story about finding her along the road.

Wagner has been charged with aggravated animal cruelty causing death, neglect of animals, making a false report and tampering with evidence.

She was arraigned on those charges Thursday morning in front of Berks County District Judge Brian K. Strand and placed in Berks County Prison in lieu of $75,000 bail.

According to state police:

A state police animal cruelty officer began investigating the incident, initially believing that Wagner told the truth about finding the abandoned dog at the side of the road.

But he became suspicious when animal rescue workers told him that they had found a photo of what appeared to be Sadie on a social media account belonging to Wagner.

The officer interviewed Wagner at her home, where she shared the same story she had told animal rescue workers and local police, whom she contacted after she claimed to have found Sadie.

The officer then confronted Wagner with the social media photo. Faced with that evidence, she admitted she had lied. She told the officer she got the dog on April 14.

Wagner told the officer that when she got the dog it was "skin and bones," in far worse shape then when she dropped her off at the emergency veterinarian office. Wagner said she knew the dog needed care but couldn't afford to provide it.

When asked about the puppies, Wagner said they were born about two days before she said she found Sadie. She claimed that five were stillborn, and one died shortly after being born.

Wagner admitted a photo she had sent to animal rescue workers of the puppies laying in the grass — which she claimed was taken at the site where she had found Sadie — was actually taken in her front yard.

As for why she made up the story about finding Sadie and the puppies, Wagner claimed she didn't think about what she was doing and only wanted to find help for the dog.

Justice for Sadie

Lakin Harmon was suspicious from the start.

The president and founder of Zoe's House Rescue said Thursday that when she was first contacted on May 7 by Wagner about finding Sadie something just didn't feel right.

"Initially, it was just a gut feeling," she said.

That feeling began to grow later that first night.

Harmon said Wagner sent her a picture of the puppies she claimed to have found near where she had discovered Sadie. It appeared to have been taken in the daylight, but it was sent around midnight and Wagner indicated it had just been taken.

"That was my first 'Hmm, something's not right here,'" Harmon said.

Harmon said her suspicions were cemented when she and her staff found Wagner's social media post featuring a photo of what appeared to be Sadie.

"I was absolutely sick to my stomach when I saw that because I was hoping I was wrong," she said.

Harmon said she and her staff were involved in the state police investigation from the start. She knew Wagner was lying, so when charges were announced Thursday it wasn't a surprise.

But that didn't mean it didn't stir a vortex of emotions.

"I don't even now how to put it into words, I'm feeling a lot of emotions right now," she said. "I'm relieved that we are going to get justice for Sadie. I am sad that it ended the way it did for Sadie and the puppies. I am disgusted with what this dog and her puppies went through and the lengths this girl went to cover it up."

Harmon said she is also grateful for the state police animal cruelty officer who investigated the case.

"He did everything he promised he would do," she said.

Harmon said Sadie's case is one that should never happen. While she understands that sometimes people find themselves in over their heads with a sick animal, she pointed out that there are plenty of places they can turn for help.

"That is why organizations like Zoe's House exist," she said. "That is exactly why we're here, to help in those situations and take those dogs in."

And, she added, there are many other similar organizations in the area that are also able to offer help.

"There is zero excuse," she said.

Jose Joel Delgado-Rivera, chief communications officer for the Animal Rescue League of Berks County, said Sadie's case should serve as a reminder to the public how seriously animal cruelty cases are taken.

"Animal cruelty reports are treated the same as human violence reports," he said. "We take it very seriously and we investigate to the fullest extent of the law."

Delgado-Rivera also stressed that lying when reporting an animal cruelty incident is a serious offense, pointing out that Wagner is now facing charges of making a false report and evidence tampering.

Like Harmon, Delgado-Rivera said there is no excuse for not getting an animal the help it needs. He said there are plenty of resources available, and the Animal Rescue League can help connect people with those resources.

"If someone is struggling to pay to help an animal we will find a way to help," he said.