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Tag: court

Dragger of dog gets 10-year sentence


A South Carolina man who dragged a pit bull mix behind his pick-up truck for two miles received the state’s maximum penalty for animal cruelty.

Circuit Judge Letitia Verdin sentenced Roger Dennis Owens of Greenville to five years in prison Tuesday for ill treatment of animals. He received another 5 1/2 years for habitual traffic offenses.

“This is one of the cruelest things that I’ve seen since I’ve been on the bench,” Verdin said.

Andra-GraceOwens dragged the dog behind his truck for at least two miles on Nov. 29 — even as witnesses tried to get him to stop, according to the Greenville News.

Witnesses said the dog was tied to an open truck bed with her front paws on the gate while her hind legs were dragged across the road. The dog was running, trying to keep up with the truck, which was being driven at high speeds.

Two witnesses pursued Owens, following a trail of blood on the road until they found the dog, said Assistant Solicitor Julie Anders.

The dog, now named Andra Grace, was taken to a veterinary clinic for treatment, and more than $16,000 was donated to help pay for her care.

She has since been adopted.

Owens’ attorney, public defender Elizabeth Powers Price, said her client has cared for dogs his whole life but had been drinking that day.

You can learn more about Andra Grace on the Justice for Andra Grace Facebook page.

Condo association to pay for its stupidity

fischerA Florida condo association that told a woman with multiple sclerosis that her service dog was too big has agreed to pay $300,000 to atone for its collective stupidity.

The settlement followed a federal judge’s declaration that Sabal Palm Condominiums in Davie, which sued to force the woman to get rid of the dog, had behaved in a manner both absurd and unreasonable, not to mention in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

“Sabal Palm got it exactly — and unreasonably — wrong,” U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola wrote in his order.

“This is not just common sense — though it is most certainly that.”

Scola ordered the condo association to allow Deborah Fischer, a retired art teacher, to keep her service dog, the Miami Herald reported.

Fischer, who uses a wheelchair and has limited use of her arms and hands, received a service dog in November 2011 from Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit group that provides dogs for people with disabilities.

The dog – a 5-year-old Labrador-golden retriever mix named Sorenson — has been trained to help Fischer pick things up, open and close doors and retrieve items from counter tops.

The condominium association, saying the dog violated its 20-pound limit on pets, began demanding medical records and other information to prove that Fischer needed Sorenson — and it sued Fischer when, it said, she failed to provide it.

Fischer, along with her husband, Larry, counter-sued, saying the condo board’s demands violated the federal Fair Housing Act, or FHA.

Judge Scola, in a 30-page ruling, strongly agreed with Fischer.

That the condo association “turned to the courts to resolve what should have been an easy decision is a sad commentary on the litigious nature of our society. And it does a disservice to people like Deborah who actually are disabled and have a legitimate need for a service dog as an accommodation under the FHA,” he wrote.

Condo board members suggested that Fischer could get a smaller service dog, but Scola didn’t buy that argument.

After Scola ruled in the Fischers’ favor, their attorney negotiated a $300,000 settlement with the attorney representing Sabal Palm.

Fischer said Sorenson can recognize 40 separate commands.

“He has made my life so much better,” she said.

(Photo: Courtesy of Matthew Dietz)

How not to surrender a dog


Returning a dog you adopted to the shelter he came from isn’t always a shameful thing.

Sometimes, sad as it is to see, there can be valid reasons for doing so, and, given it is done right, it might turn out best for all involved.

This Denver man clearly didn’t do it right.

Daniel Sohn, 31, is scheduled to appear in court on July 2 to face charges of animal cruelty and neglect after ditching his dog at the Denver Animal Shelter — twice in one day, 7NEWS reported this week.

Sohn, in an interview with the station, disagreed with term “ditch,” and said he took the dog to the shelter to “give him a choice.”

The dog, named Bronson, was adopted by Sohn in October.

According to 7NEWS, he took the dog to the shelter to surrender him, but on two different visits the same day, he balked when he was asked to fill out the required paperwork.

At one point, he ran out the door to his car. His dog followed, and a witness snapped a photo of the dog chasing the car down the street.

Witnesses said his car hit the dog at one point.

7NEWS reporter Molly Hendrickson tracked Sohn down at his parent’s home in Aurora.

“Yes, that is my car and my dog,” Sohn said when shown the photo that had been taken of the dog chasing the car. “I actually dropped him off and he followed me because we have a bit of a bond.”

He added, “Well, I didn’t ditch him. I actually dropped my dog off at the shelter where I did pick him up at. I actually gave my dog a choice if he wanted to be with me or possibly find an owner he might feel better with.”

As for striking the dog with the car, Sohn said, “I didn’t accidentally hit him. He jumped in front of my car but I felt he was triggered to do so as if, like, he was a mechanism of the surrounding people.”

Sohn left with his dog, but he says Bronson later, on a trip to Los Angeles, jumped out of his car at a gas station in Beverly Hills. He hasn’t seen him since.

“He’s a stray and some dogs just stray and he’s probably onto the next owner,” Sohn said. “Is he still alive? I’m sure he is.”

One very brave piece of “property”

mickNormally, we would call Mick, a Portland, Oregon, police dog killed in the line of duty this week, a hero.

Or maybe even a life-saver, which is how his partner, Officer Jeff Dorn, referred to him while recuperating in a hospital  from two gunshot wounds fired by the same burglary suspect who fatally gunned down Mick.

But according, at least, to an Oregon Court of Appeals decision — issued the very same day Mick died while trying to apprehend the fleeing, gun-firing suspect – Mick, being a dog, was merely “property.”

The court ruling wasn’t about Mick — instead it stemmed from an abuse case — but the timing and juxtaposition of the two stories serve to make a point that society, and lawmakers, and law enforcers, and courts, ought to start heeding.

Dogs aren’t toasters.

Mick joined the Portland Police Bureau K-9 Unit in March. After only a few days on the job, police, he captured three suspects within a 10-hour period. On Wednesday, he was with Dorn, chasing down a fleeing burglary suspect, when he was shot.

“Officer Dorn would like the community to know that ‘Mick saved my life,’ ” Portland police Sgt. Pete Simpson said in a press release.

“The dog was doing its job. He was out there protecting our community, and it’s tragic that we lost the dog,” said Portland Police Chief Mike Reese.

dornandmickAfter Mick’s body was recovered, a procession of police cars followed him to a veterinarian’s office, according to a report in Wednesday’s Oregonian, but it was too late.

On the same day Mick died, the Oregon Court of Appeals issued a ruling declaring — in line with what all the law books say — that dogs are “property.”

As such, the three-judge panel ruled, dogs can’t be seized and examined without a warrant, even if the purpose is to save a dog’s life.

The legal view of dogs as — above all else — property both degrades and endangers man’s best friend, and can make it difficult for animal-cruelty investigators to provide help to beaten, starved or neglected pets.

Changing that age-old view would require throwing away a lot of law books, and it would require judges to finally start showing half the backbone Mick did.

It’s time to make a legal distinction between inanimate ”property” that has no soul, and “property” (if we must call them that) that does have a soul.

The Court of Appeals Wednesday did the opposite, throwing out the conviction of a 28-year-old woman who, based on evidence from a veterinarian who tested and treated the animal without a warrant, was found guilty of starving her dog, the Oregonian reported.

After an informant told the Oregon Humane Society that Amanda L. Newcomb was beating her dog and failing to properly feed it, an animal-cruelty investigator went to Newcomb’s apartment in December 2010 and saw the dog in the yard “in a near emaciated condition.”

Newcomb told the investigator she was out of dog food and that she was going to get some more, but the investigator  determined the dog likely needed medical care and brought the dog to a Humane Society vet for an examination.

That exam, according to the appeals court ruling, constituted unreasonable search and seizure of property — namely, Newcomb’s dog.

While the investigator had probable cause to seize the dog without a warrant, the court said, the “search” — i.e. medical exam — of the dog violated Newcomb’s privacy rights because the authorities hadn’t obtained a warrant.

The ruling effectively overturns her conviction on charges of second-degree animal neglect, and the original judge’s orders for her to serve one year of probation and not possess animals for five years.

It could also serve to hamper animal cruelty investigations across the state.

Maybe worst of all, it confirms the foolish concept that dogs — despite their heroics, despite their loyalty, despite their having character traits that we humans can only envy — are, first and foremost, property, a wrongful designation that legally, if not in reality, seems to trump all else.

Boomer: The man who wants to be a dog

boomer

Dogs crave attention. Humans crave attention. So it’s only logical to assume that, being both, Boomer the dog, also known as Gary Matthews of Pittsburgh, requires large doses of it.

He got some from ABCNews.com last week. Although there haven’t been any major developments in his life or legal case, the website ran a lengthy feature on the 48-year-old retired technology worker man who eats dog food, wears a collar, barks at cars and wants to have his name legally changed to Boomer the Dog.

Matthews petitioned a court in 2010, but his request for a name change was denied. He appealed that ruling, and lost again in 2011 – a development he laments on his website, Boomerthedog.com:

boomernocostume“I believe that everyone should be able to choose the name that they would like. We didn’t get a choice when we were born, we were given names. Since we can build the identities that we choose to carry on in life with, why can’t we choose a name that goes along with it, recognized by everyone, even on official ID?”

The original judge ruled that the request for a name change was frivolous, but Matthews said plenty of other cases have been approved, including, a man in Oregon who had his named changed to Captain Awesome, and a man who legally changed his name to that of his band and is now known as the Dan Miller Experience.

Matthews — who was featured in June on the National Geographic Channel program “Taboo,” in an episode called, “Extreme Anthropomorphism: Boomer the Dog”– wears a costume made out of shredded paper and considers himself a furry. He can often be seen wandering around Pittsburgh, his hometown.

“When I go out, I get the feeling and I wave to people as a dog,” he said. “I go to local festivals because kids like the costume. That’s my way of reaching out to people and spreading the word that I can be myself in life. They see that you can have fun in adulthood. But I am kind of a loner dog.”

“Sometimes I sleep in my dog house, which is up in the attic –  I built it myself,” he added.

He enjoys Milk Bones and eats dog food (canned), but not all the time. “I eat regular human food, too, like pizza,” he told ABC.

Matthews said he got the name from the television series about a stray dog called “Here’s Boomer,” which ran from 1979 to 1982.

But he traces his obsession with dogs to long before that.

“It’s been a long process,” he said. “It started when I saw “The Shaggy DA” in 1976 when I was 11 years old. I went with my Dad to see it. I was already a dog freak and collecting pictures of dogs. I saw this movie and there was something different about it — the dad transforms into a big sheep dog. I had never seen that idea played out anywhere.”

“I started playing dog and getting into it,” said Matthews. “It was like a kid thing. Sometimes, I would bark or maybe get into a big box and peek out with my paws over the side of it like a dog would do. In a couple of years, I really got into it. … Maybe I was looking for a personality to have.”

Matthews said he lives off a trust fund left to him by his parents.

“Going public with being a dog isn’t just about the name change,” he said. “That’s only the most recent thing that I’m focusing on, because really, being a dog is about everything — it’s the way that I live.”

Matthews said he often got teased when acting like a dog as a child. “I got flak for it,” he said. “My parents didn’t like it. Earlier on, they saw it as a kid thing and they laughed. But at a certain point in time there are adult expectations and they want you to go off to work and date. Society wants to straighten you out.”

Other children teased him and he was sent to a “special school” for teens with social and emotional problems, but he insists there is nothing wrong with him.

“I see it as a lifestyle,” he said. “I just live differently.”

(Photos: From Boomerthedog.com)

What do marijuana-sniffing dogs and newspaper reporters have in common?

phelan

What’s a working dog to do? You learn your trade, hone your skills, toil away, only to find out that the world around you has evolved to a point where those skills are no longer much appreciated.

It’s why you can’t find a blacksmith too easily nowadays. It’s what happened to the elevator operator, the milkman, and, at least from my biased and disgruntled point of view, the newspaper reporter.

Such too was the case with Phelan, a marijuana-detecting Labrador retriever in the employ of the police department in Lakewood, Colorado.

With the passage by Colorado voters of Initiative 502 — legalizing the recreational use of small amounts of marijuana — the skill Phelan was best known for is no longer much in demand there.

In fact, his  biggest asset has become a liability, the News Tribune reports.

Phelan was handed his pink slip this week and sold to the state Department of Corrections, where, in his new job, his inability to distinguish between marijuana and other drugs won’t be a problem — all drugs being illegal behind bars.

The same story is playing out in Washington state,  where voters also legalized marijuana use, and where police departments are figuring out whether to cease training new dogs in marijuana detection, put their existing dogs through ”pot desensitization” training or just retire them and send them out to pasture, according to the Associated Press.

Take it from me, pasture sucks. Dogs and people, I think, prefer having a mission.

But Phelan’s mission, at least in the two states where moderate amounts of marijuana are now permitted, no longer much needs to be accomplished. Worse yet, alerting to small amounts of marijuana could mess up prosecutions in cases involving other, still illegal, drugs.

Say Phelan alerted to drugs in the trunk of a car. Phelan’s inability to distinguish between heroin and marijuana — or at least specify to his handler to which he is alerting — means any subsequent search by officers could have been based on Phelan detecting an entirely legal drug, in an entirely legal amount.

That means the “probable cause” the search was based on might not have really existed, and that means any evidence of illegal drugs subsequently found in the search would likely be tossed out.

Thus Phelan, unless he were to be retrained to drop marijuana-detecting from his repertoire — not easily accomplished — has ended up going from cutting edge law enforcement tool to an old school has been.

Drug detecting dogs — traditionally trained to alert to the smell of marijuana, heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine and cocaine –  can’t specify what they’re smelling, much less the quantity it might be in.

In Washington, the new law decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of the drug for individuals over 21, and barred the growth and distribution of marijuana outside the state-approved system.

Dog trainer Fred Helfers, of the Pacific Northwest Detection Dog Association, said abandoning pot training is a “knee-jerk” reaction: “What about trafficking? What about people who have more than an ounce?” Still, he’s helping departments who want to put their dogs through ”extinction training” to change what substances dogs alert to. That takes about 30 days, followed by a prolonged period of reinforcement.

The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission removed detecting marijuana from its canine team certification standards this year, and no longer requires dogs be trained to detect it, but some others say, given large amounts of pot are still illegal, it can still be a useful skill for a dog to have.

In Pierce County, prosecutor Mark Lindquist believes new dogs are the answer — dogs trained in sniffing out the other drugs, but not marijuana. He’s not convinced dogs can be re-trained. “We’ll need new dogs to alert on substances that are illegal,” he told the Associated Press.

Other police departments, like Tacoma’s, aren’t making any changes.

“The dog doesn’t make the arrest, the officer does,” said spokesperson Loretta Cool. “A canine alert is just one piece of evidence an officer considers when determining whether a crime has been committed.”

Phelan was one of two drug-sniffing dogs on the police force in Lakewood, Colorado. He’ll be replaced by Kira, a Belgian Malinois  who was trained not to alert when she smells marijuana. Duke, a Labrador retriever mix with the old-school training, will remain on the force for now.

Phelan, though, will be moving on, and I sympathize with the crime-fighting Lab.

His new gig in the slammer is clearly a step down the career ladder — not unlike going from being a newspaper reporter detecting corruption and injustice to an unpaid blogger who mostly (but not entirely) regurgitates material already written.

And, for Phelan, there’s the added insult of being sold for the lowly sum of one dollar.

Surely — old school as his talents may be – he was worth more than that.

Son pleads guilty in Oregon murder-for-hire case in which dog was the target

David James Walkoski.jpgDerek James Walkoski.jpgAn Oregon City man pleaded guilty to shooting a dog that belonged to his father’s neighbor.

Police say the father paid for the hit.

For his involvement in what authorities described as a murder-for-hire, Derek James Walkoski, 31, will spend 28 months in prison for shooting and killing Paws, a black Lab that lived next door to his father in Canby.

In a hearing in Clackamas County, Walkoski told Circuit Judge Robert R. Selander that he shot the dog with a rifle, the Oregonian reported.

“You just shot him?” Selander asked.

“Yes,” Walkoski said.

“Any reason?” Selander asked. “Any justifiable reason?”

“No, your honor,” Walkoski said.

Walkoski pleaded guilty to first-degree aggravated animal abuse. He also pleaded guilty to being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and recklessly endangering another.

Paws’ owner, sitting in the back row of the courtroom gallery, did not address the court.

Walkoski’s father, David James Walkoski, 61, whose trial is set for June 18, hasn’t admitted to any involvement in the killing of Paws.  But he was arrested during the court hearing when prosecutors informed the judge he, while free on bail, pointed his finger at Paws’ owners and simulated firing a pistol – despite an existing no-contact order issued by the court. He was charged with contempt of court and booked into the Clackamas County Jail, with bail set at $50,000.

According to police reports, the Walkoskis’ neighbor returned to his home in April 2012  to find his dog dead. Police said the father paid his son to kill the animal, but did not offer a motive for the shooting.

(Photos: David James Walkoski (left) and his son, Derek James Walkoski)


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