Photo courtesy of Aaron and Rita Woodward
Precious is the only puppy that survived after being dumped in a trash bin behind a Riverdale fabric store with 13 other puppies. No formal reason has been given for why the puppies were left to die.

OGDEN — The man who dumped a bag full of puppies in a trash bin behind a Riverdale store has been sentenced to serve up to five years in prison on animal cruelty and drug charges.

Michael Ray Howard, 35, said nothing during his sentencing here in 2nd District Court on Monday, but his defense attorney blamed the actions on a drug binge.

"He's been in a methamphetamine-induced haze for about eight to 10 years now," lawyer Daniel Drage said.

Howard appeared healthier than he has in previous court appearances.

Family and friends showed up to offer support as he was sentenced on 13 counts of class-A misdemeanor aggravated cruelty to animals, one count of class B misdemeanor animal cruelty, and a third-degree felony drug possession charge.

Howard pleaded guilty to tossing the 14 puppies in a garbage bin last year. No formal reason has ever been given for why the Jack Russell Terrier-mix puppies were left to die in the garbage bag. Only one, a dog named Precious by its current owners, survived.

Precious' owners, Aaron and Rita Woodward, urged the judge to give Howard the maximum sentence he could.

"All I want is justice for the puppies," Rita Woodward said. "All I ask is something is done for the puppies."

Weber County prosecutors called the crime one done with "extreme cruelty and depravity" and noted that it served as the touchstone for the passage of Henry's Law by the Utah Legislature. The new law makes animal cruelty a felony in some cases. The Woodwards sported "Henry's Law" T-shirts in court.

But it was the felony drug possession charge that carried the most weight when Howard was sentenced. Judge Roger Dutson handed down 13 one-year sentences for the aggravated animal cruelty charges and six months for the class-B misdemeanor, but up to five years for the drug possession charge. He allowed the sentences to be served all at once.

"I think you can see what you've done as it relates to those little, living animals is heinous," Dutson said.

The judge also recommended that Howard be enrolled into a drug treatment program at the Utah State Prison.

Outside of court, the Woodwards called the sentence "the best we're going to get."

"We wanted justice for the puppies. They didn't deserve what they got," Rita Woodward said.

After being approached by an animal rights activist after the sentencing,

Howard's family and friends left visibly upset.

"You don't know him. He's a good, nice man," said Howard's girlfriend, Misty Comer. "He's a wonderful man."


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com