Pet groomer charged with animal abuse at business on South Tamiami Trail in Sarasota

North Fort Myers resident released from jail under $36,000 bond

Diana J. Stevens. Photo courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

A 41-year-old North Fort Myers woman has been arrested on numerous animal cruelty charges resulting from alleged incidents at her pet grooming business in Sarasota, the Sarasota Police Department has announced.

Diana Jeneane Stevens is the owner of a franchise whose address is 1129 S. Tamiami Trail, a Police Department news release says. The business was known as Woof Gang Bakery and Dog Grooming, Stevens’ Probable Cause Affidavit notes. Google this week reported that it had been closed permanently. It was located in Saba Plaza.

Detectives initially were investigating the business in regard to allegations of financial crimes “when they uncovered a pattern of animal abuse by [Stevens],” the release adds.

“Store employees told detectives they not only witnessed Stevens abuse the animals as she groomed them, but on several instances, they had to intervene,” the Police Department news release points out. “Customers also reported that their pets behaved abnormally after being picked up from the business,” the release continues.

“Sarasota Police detectives obtained a search warrant for the store and collected video evidence of animal abuse. The video appears to support allegations that Stevens beat, berated, and tossed animals as she groomed them,” the release adds.

Officers arrested Stevens on March 8 on five charges of aggravated animal abuse (a felony count) and five charges of animal cruelty (a misdemeanor), the news release says.

Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Corrections Division records show that Stevens was ordered held under total bond of $36,000. She was released on bond on March 13, her record adds.

Darryl Mitchell. Photo from the Musca Law website

Further, on March 13, Stevens entered a plea of not guilty with the 12th Judicial Circuit court and requested a jury trial, as shown in records maintained by the staff of Karen Rushing, Sarasota County clerk of the Circuit Court and county comptroller. Stevens’ attorney is Darryl Mitchell of Musca Law on Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota, a document shows.

Anyone with information related to this case is asked to email Detective Jessica Sullivan at jessica.sullivan@sarasotaFL.gov, leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers by calling 941-366-TIPS,or going online at www.sarasotacrimestoppers.com, the Police Department news release adds.

Details from the affidavit

The Probable Cause Affidavit says that one witness told investigators that “Stevens would smack and hit dogs, she was rough with cats and would hit them, she would jerk the cats around and flip them over and she would tether the cats while she groomed them, which is dangerous.” That witness explained to the investigators that “tethering a cat could cause the cat’s neck to break.”

Further, the witness said that Stevens would “grab the dogs by the scruff out of frustration and she was aggressive with them while she groomed them.”

That same witness and a second one also recounted that Stevens and another employee had purchased numerous puppies, including French bulldogs, to sell. The bulldogs were kept at the shop, the affidavit notes. The puppies “were in a small kennel in unsanitary conditions … living in their own urine and feces.” One witness reported that one of those puppies died after having been left alone overnight, unsupervised, in a sink/bathing tub.

Stevens allegedly “placed the puppy into a cardboard box [and] kept it at the store for a while until [she] did something with it.” The witness was unsure of what happened to the deceased puppy, the affidavit says.

On one occasion, the affidavit continues, Stevens allegedly was bathing a golden doodle that weighed about 75 or 80 pounds, which was proving difficult to handle. She called the dog “ ‘a piece of s**t,’ and then punched it with a closed fist several times in the ribs and abdomen.”

A store employee intervened, the affidavit points out, and Stevens sent the employee an apology about her behavior that night, via text.

A red balloon on this aerial map shows the location of the pet grooming business in Saba Plaza on South Tamiami Trail in Sarasota. Image from Google Maps

In yet another incident, the same witness, who no longer works at the business, reported that Stevens was getting ready to bathe and groom a black, short-hair domestic cat when she “grabbed the cat by its head and slammed the head into the table.”

Yet another witness intervened in that situation, the affidavit says.

A guilty plea in a Lee County battery case

The Sarasota News Leader found no other 12th Judicial Circuit Court records involving Stevens.

However, a search of Lee County court records found that, in February 2023, Stevens was charged with a third-degree felony count of Burglary of a Conveyance and a first-degree misdemeanor count of Battery.

In that incident, court records say, Stevens allegedly engaged in a verbal altercation after she blocked half of a roadway with a Cadillac Escalade. The victim told investigators that the victim “did not feel comfortable passing the vehicle,” so she asked the owner — Stevens —to move it farther into the yard so the victim could pass it.

The victim added that “Stevens began yelling and cursing at her,” and, at one point, Stevens leaned into the vehicle through the open window and “got inches from the victim’s face” before finally backing out of the window. However, the report continues, “Stevens “flicked the victim in the forehead and then slapped her upper forearm, just below the elbow.”

Stevens told investigators that she was at her grandmother’s residence, celebrating her son’s birthday, when the above incident occurred. Stevens added that multiple vehicles had driven past her, speeding, with drivers “yelling at her for her parking.”

Stevens also alleged that the victim had grabbed Stevens’ triceps, indicating that the victim was going to engage in a fight with Stevens. Stevens denied having struck the victim. However, court records show that she ended up pleading guilty.

The judge who presided over the case ordered in November 2023 that adjudication of Stevens’ guilt be withheld. She was placed on probation for 24 months and ordered to attend an anger management program for 18 weeks.

Further, the judgment called for Stevens to be evaluated for treatment in a mental health care facility or program.

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