Former Hardee deputy faces animal cruelty charge after video shows him hitting, dragging dog

PALMETTO, Fla. - A former Hardee County Sherriff’s Office deputy has been charged with a first-degree misdemeanor charge of animal cruelty.

State Attorney Ed Brodsky announced the charge after a video appeared on social media of Nicholas Zotto hitting and dragging a dog.

<div>Courtesy: Hardee County Sheriff's Office.</div>
Courtesy: Hardee County Sheriff's Office.

"This case underscores the dedication of the State Attorney’s Office, the Manatee County Animal Services and the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office in upholding the welfare of animals within our community. The State Attorney's office is committed to ensuring justice is served in cases of animal cruelty and upholding the safety and welfare of all animals," the State Attorney’s Office said in an emailed statement.

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The Manatee County Animal Services has also cited Zotto with civil ordinance violations of Manatee County Ordinances concerning his operation of the business "Pawsome Sitters."

Past clients of his business told FOX 13 they had previous problems with Zotto, and the treatment of their pets.

"He’s my life. He’s my friend. He’s my companion. He’s a great dog. He’s a lover not a fighter," Kurt Stokke said.

When Kurt learned about Pawsome Sitters and Zotto, he thought he’d found the right place and person to care for his yellow lab named "EJ." He said that opinion quickly changed with a text.

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Zotto told Stokke that scars started on the side of his face.

"I texted him and said if it get worse take him to Palmetto Animal Clinic, and I will pay it," he recalled.

Stokke said that never happened and EJ got worse.

"Both sides of his face were just scarred up from what they call hot spots, which he’s never had before. Now Nick was claiming it was preexisting conditions, I’m like ‘no Nick, he’s never had anything like this before.’ He’s over 5 years old," he said.

Stokke took a flight home to care for his dog, and it took about a month and a half for him to heal. He filed a small claims case against Zotto, which he won.

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"There’s something going on with him, and I just don’t want to see this happen to anybody else’s pet," he said.

A second client has also filed a small claims case against Zotto after severe injuries happened to their dog. That case goes before a judge on Monday.

The video of Zotto dragging and hitting a dog named "Grizzly," caught the attention of  many, including Zotto’s former employer – the Hardee County Sheriff’s Office.

Zotto was terminated Wednesday evening after they said his actions fell short of the ethical and moral standards of the agency. In an email to FOX 13, Zotto said:

"While I appreciate you reaching out to allow me to give my side of this incident, please understand that this is stemming from a very contentious divorce that has been extremely difficult and has resulted in several litigation cases. I would never presume to tell you what is not a story you feel is in public interest but would ask for consideration for my family’s privacy and my own mental health at this time."