Celebrating two special canines

An event on Feb. 22 honored the lives of Molly, the ambassador of Marion County’s animal abuser registry, and Marion County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Leo, who died after being shot in the line of duty.

Lilly Baron, right, and Cpl. Jarrick Donely, a K-9 officer for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, center, release doves as Lt. Carlton Curtis, left, also of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, looks on during the SPCA of Ocala Celebration of Life for Ambassador Molly of Molly’s Law and for MCSO K-9 Leo near Citizens’ Service Center by Molly’s statue in Ocala, Fla. on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. Donely released the dove in memory of K-9 Leo who recently died in the line of duty. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2024.

Home » Community
Posted February 23, 2024 | By Susan Smiley-Height, susan@magnoliamediaco.com

A two-part event on Feb. 22 paid tribute to two local canines who captured the hearts of the community.

Molly, a white mixed-breed dog who survived life-threatening wounds after being attacked by a human in 2014, later became the ambassador for Marion County’s Animal Abuser Registry, known as Molly’s Law. Molly died of cancer on Feb. 22, 2023, with her human companion Lilly Baron, of the SPCA of Ocala, at her side.

MCSO K-9 Leo. [Photo courtesy Marion County Sheriff’s Office]

Marion County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Leo, the partner of Cpl. Justin Tortora, was shot in the line of duty on Feb. 17 and died from his wounds on Feb. 20.

On Thursday, a small crowd first gathered near the white marble statue of Molly that stands outside the city of Ocala’s Citizen Service Center at 201 SE 3rd St. Among those gathered were Baron and Nilda Comas, the sculptor of the statue, and Jane Mabe, owner of the Ocala Dove Experience.

Doves are released during the Celebration of Life for Ambassador Molly of Molly’s Law and MSCO K-9 Leo on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2024.

Mabe brought several doves that were released in honor of the two canines, with one dove released by Baron in memory of Molly and one released by MCSO K-9 officer Cpl. Jarrick Donely in memory of Leo.

The crowd then moved to the Marion Cultural Alliance’s Brick City Center for the Arts on Broadway Street for a reception.

As people mingled, among them a number of local elected officials, videos played that showed snippets from Molly’s life as well as Comas at work in her studio in Italy. A large portrait of Tortora and Leo sat on an easel, while Molly’s cremains, in a ceramic urn, rested on a table beneath a large portrait of her.

As the guests enjoyed refreshments, Marion County Judge Lori Cotton introduced Rev. Edwin Quintana, who spoke about the two dogs. He said Molly was a “beloved animal ambassador in this community and beyond.” He expressed hope that Molly’s Law would one day lead to a statewide animal abuser registry.

“I pray it starts at the state level and moves on to other states,” he said, with the audience erupting in applause.

Quintana offered condolences to the MCSO, nodding to Lt. Carlton Curtis in the audience, and said that Leo, in the words of Sheriff Billy Woods, “Did exactly what he was trained to do, fearlessly protecting those deputies and charging directly at danger.”

Dr. Rick Munsell, left, and Lilly Baron, right, pose by a memorial set up for Molly during the SPCA of Ocala Celebration of Life for Ambassador Molly of Molly’s Law at the Brick City Center for the Arts in Ocala, Fla. on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2024.

Baron told the audience that Molly had had a “good life, a home life. She played in a pasture and rolled in the dirt—every day.” She also directed attention to some Marion County Animal Services personnel in the room and said, “They saved her life. You can’t believe the good work they do day in and day out. They are heroes.”
Baron said that while she had hoped to slow down, the drive to make Molly’s Law a state law did not pass this year, so, “I’ll take that on again.”

“I’ll be working with Marion County Animal Control and the County Commission to make people responsible for their pets. At the next County Commission meeting I’ll be proposing a lot of suggestions and more importantly, work to make Marion County a no-nonsense county. We’re one of the largest counties in the state and when people move here and bring their pets, we’re gonna make sure they are responsible for them,” she said.

“And,” she added, “I have one more project, the ‘Ambassador Molly: The Dog That Made a Difference’ book. That’s why we’re taking so many pictures here tonight,” she said, acknowledging the audience, “You’re all in it!”

Baron introduced Comas, who is in the Florida Artists Hall of Fame. Her works have been featured in solo and group exhibitions in museums and galleries in the U.S. and abroad and she recently created a statue of Mary McLeod Bethune for the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Comas told the crowd she was honored to have been selected to sculpt the statue of Molly, which was crafted from Carrara marble, mined in Italy from what are known as the caves of Michelangelo.
“Molly was the perfect dog to represent Molly’s Law. She was loved by everybody, and she knew her job,” Comas said. “It was such an honor to have been chosen to do that (sculpt the artwork) and I got to fall in love with her like all of you. Her legacy will last a long time and so many people will think of Molly’s Law when they see the sculpture.”

Molly was stabbed three times in the head and had her skull fractured with a baseball bat in early 2014. Her accused attacker, Steven Scott Fleming, served time in state prison on three counts of felony cruelty to animals. The animal abuser registry requires that any offender convicted of an animal abuse crime be placed on in the database, which allows citizens, pet sellers and rescue organizations to verify that they are not placing an animal with an animal abuser.

K-9 Leo was shot when deputies responded to a call in Silver Springs on Feb. 17, where Jeremy Beshere, 44, was accused of battery by strangulation. Beshere reportedly opened fire on the deputies and Leo was struck. The deputies returned fire and Beshere was apprehended and transported to a hospital, where he was pronounced deceased, according to MCSO.

In an effort to save Leo’s life, Marion County Fire Rescue transported the K-9 in an ambulance from the local University of Florida emergency veterinary clinic to the UF veterinary hospital in Gainesville. It was one of the first rescues of its kind after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 338 in 2021, which allows EMTs to provide emergency care to K-9s injured in the line of duty and allows the use of ambulances for emergency transport of K-9s.

To learn more about Molly and the creation of Molly’s Law, go to spcaofocala.org
The county’s animal abuser registry is accessible at marioncountyfl.org/aar

newspaper icon

Support community journalism

The first goal of the Ocala Gazette is to deliver trustworthy local journalism so corruption, misinformation and abuse are not hidden from the public or unchallenged.

We count on community support to continue this important work. Please donate or subscribe: