2 women accused of leaving puppies inside tote to die in scorching heat

Two Cherokee County women face felony animal cruelty charges after investigators say they left seven puppies in the scorching heat.

The canines died, but would have had a chance at life if the two women had stuck to their original task of surrendering them at the Cherokee County Animal Shelter.

Investigators say the two women apparently became impatient when they came to the shelter with seven puppies in an orange plastic tote.

The Cherokee County Marshal’s’ Office, which oversees investigations for the Cherokee County Animal Shelter, received a call about them on Thursday, July 27.

The first place investigators started their search for the culprits was the animal intake division of the shelter.

"We were alerted that there was an individual, two individuals that came up there with the intent to turn in some puppies. There was another animal that was loose inside that they were dealing with in the lobby, a cat," said Chief Marshal Jamie Gianfala.

Gianfala says the two women, 21-year-old Ashley Vernon and 29-year-old Amber Higdon, apparently became impatient and didn’t wait to surrender the puppies. He said the two women drove away from the intake facility after about two-and-a-half minutes, making a short drive on Univeter Road to the where the puppies met their demise.

Ashley Vernon and Amber Higdon

Ashley Vernon and Amber Higdon (Cherokee County Sheriff's Office)

Gianfala says the two apparently impatient women drove to a location on Pine Lane, less than a mile away from the shelter, bringing the tote of puppies outside of their vehicle, laying the puppies down in the tote that was high, so they couldn’t jump out, in the blistering sun.

"I wish there was a better outcome to this. I wish it could have been prevented, but if you can’t wait two minutes while we secure an animal, then the problem lies on the individual, not on the system," Gianfala said.

Gianfala says the two women apparently were taking the puppies to intake for their owner, who is not being held responsible.

"They were trusted and betrayed the trust of both the dogs and the human so everyone was wronged," said shelter volunteer Heather Smith.

Both are being charged with 14 counts of aggravated cruelty to animals and seven counts of abandonment of domesticated animal. Higdon, who was arrested last week, faces an addition violation of probation charge and remains in the Cherokee County Jail without bond. Vernon, who was arrested Monday, has since bonded out.