FREEHOLD BOROUGH —  A jury has found a Long Branch man who left an 8-month-old pit bull in a locked cage in the Sandy Hook Bay in 2018 guilty of animal cruelty.

Jenniffer Vaz and her dog Molly found the abandoned pit bull in a small cage on the shore of Veterans Memorial Park in Highlands about 6 a.m. July 30. She climbed over the ropes, down a rock barrier and onto the sand to rescue the dog she named "River."

Aaron Davis, 36, of Long Branch turned himself into police several days later. He was charged with third-degree animal cruelty by attempting to cause death or serious bodily injury to an animal, and disorderly persons offenses of abandonment of a domestic animal, failure to provide necessary care and failure to provide proper shelter.

The jury found Davis guilty of fourth-degree animal cruelty. He faces a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, and up to 30 days of community service. Davis will be sentenced in February.

Jennifer Vaz and "River," the dog she found in the ocean off Highlands
Jennifer Vaz and "River," the dog she found in the ocean off Highlands
(Monmouth County Prosector's Office)

The dog was originally named "Blaze" and had belonged to the ex-boyfriend of Davis' girlfriend, authorities have said.

According to an Asbury Park Press report, the prosecutor said that the ex-boyfriend, Benito Williams, tried to break into the woman's home but Davis stopped him and both ended up in a fight. Davis acted with "malice and depravity" to eliminate an "emblem of his enemy," a prosecutor said in court.

Vaz took the dog know known as River into her home, but found she didn't get along with River, she previously told New Jersey 101.5.

Blaze was adopted by another individual and is doing "really, really well," Ross Licitra, head of the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office Humane Law Enforcement Division, told New Jersey 101.5 Friday.

Vaz did not immediately return immediately return a message about the verdict on Friday morning. She successfully advocated to have a bill drafted — sponsored by Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlan, Sen Kristen Corrado and Sen. Anthony Bucco nicknamed "River's Law" — that would increase penalties for animal cruelty.

"We are making progress in leaps and bounds" to toughen the penalties," Licitra said.

Senate Bill 3453 is currently before the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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