Animal rights activists were outraged over the light sentence a Bronx woman received for allowing her pit bull to die of starvation. Cherika Alvarez, 30, was sentenced to 20 days of community service and barred from owning or handling pets for three years after Judge Robert Sackett found her guilty of animal cruelty last August 17. A visibly-shaken Alvarez claimed she would never intentionally hurt even a cockroach, sobbing in the courtroom, "I didn’t want any of this to happen. I will feel this for the rest of my life."

Her defense attorney Scott Levy said that she showed sufficient remorse for her actions, and has already had to suffer a brutal Internet backlash after the 18-month-old dog’s death made the news. Alvarez, an unemployed single mother, abandoned puppy Alizé when she was evicted from her Belmont apartment in November 2009. Neighbors and animal rights activists found the dog’s emaciated remains among piles of garbage. An autopsy discovered razor blades, wood chips, garbage, and ketchup packets in its stomach. Alvarez claimed that she asked a neighbor she barely knew, to take care of Alizé and didn’t know that the pup had starved for weeks before finally passing away from hunger.

"She wakes up every morning and goes to sleep every night thinking about it," Levy said, noting that Alvarez resorted to wearing sunglasses and hats for fear that she would be recognized on the street. "This is her one and only crime, and I’m confident it will be her last." Alvarez, who had faced up a year in prison and $1,000 in fines, was ordered to pay $220 in fees in addition to the community service. 

The ASPCA's Stacey Wolf said they were hoping for a stiffer penalty. "We are at least gratified to know Ms. Alvarez now has a criminal record," she said. "We can only hope that this experience was sufficiently sobering for her." However, others felt that her actions deserved more than a slap on the wrist. Roxanne Delgado, 31, a volunteer from the New York Animal Alliance, said Alvarez should have been imprisoned. "What community would want to be served by a monster like that?" she said. "If this was done to a child or a human, she would be in jail. What she did is not just a crime against the dog or the Bronx—it’s a crime against society. It gives the impression that the Bronx doesn’t care. It shows that the Bronx tolerates, accepts, and condones animal abuse."

Delgado criticized the judge’s decision, saying that Alvarez’s lack of a criminal record should not have been taken into consideration. "There’s always a first time for everything," she said. "But if someone commits murder for the first time, that doesn’t reduce the gravity of what they did."

On the “Justice for pit bull Alizé” Facebook page, the reactions were even stronger. One user commented, “She had many options—surrender him, give him away, or even abandon him on the streets. She willingly murdered that poor, defenseless animal. Where is the justice?”