Dog case addresses animal's right to die
June 25, 2008 · Updated 1:55 PM
"Kiah Ross takes Kelly, her family's Dalmatian, for a walk. The family regained custody of the dog two weeks ago after a district court judge dismissed an animal cruelty charge against the dog's owner, Ron Safford.Matt Johnson / staff photoA Clinton man who won the dismissal of an animal cruelty charge leveled against him in district court two weeks ago said he hopes his case will force Island County's animal control officer to think hard before seizing older pets that are dying at home.On May 26, a county animal control officer picked up a Dalmatian from a Blakely Avenue address after a resident on that street reported that the dog had wandered into his garage. Although the reporting party knew who owned the dog, the officer confiscated the animal because she felt the dog was starving to death.A month later, the dog - whose name is Kelly - was back at home after Island County District Court Judge Peter Strow ruled that the animal's owner, Ron Safford, had not knowingly starved or abused her. His decision dismissed the opinions of animal control officer Carol Barnes and Oak Harbor veterinarian Eric Anderson, who both stated that the 14-year-old and then-26-pound dog was underweight.Last week, Safford said the trial was unnecessary, as were the $2,000 in legal expenses he had to pay to defend himself and recover his dog. Kelly is simply in the process of dying, he said, something he does not find surprising, since Dalmatians usually don't live beyond 10 years. Safford acknowledged that Kelly was thin when animal control confiscated her. She had been losing weight since January even though Safford's daughter, Tamara, fed Kelly four cups of dry food, two cans of wet food, and table scraps each day. The family chose not to have the dog examined for illness after the dog's veterinarian said finding the cause of her weight loss could be expensive and possibly pointless, Safford said.At that point, Safford said, he and his family decided to let nature take its course, as long as Kelly was not in pain.We have an old dog. What are you going to do? Safford said.The dog gained weight while it was in animal control's custody, putting on about 12 pounds over several weeks. Safford said Kelly still eats more than his other Dalmatian, Coby, who is two years younger and 15 pounds heavier. At the June 21 trial in Oak Harbor, Island County Deputy Prosecutor Doug Losak tried to prove that Safford knew his dog was starving. The testimony did not, for the most part, go his way. Witness John Madsen, who called animal control when he found Kelly running loose, said he fed the dog when he saw she was unusually thin. He said Kelly ate in a leisurely way, seemed to be in no pain, and did not behave as an abused animal would.Even Dr. Anderson could not say for certain that the dog was starving. He said she may have dropped weight due to a toxin, a tumor, or a metabolic disease.Strow's dismissal of the case leaves it open for appeal. However, Losak said the county probably will not appeal as long as Safford takes better care of Kelly.Losak said he does not believe Strow's decision sets a precedent that would allow more pet owners to let their older pets die without providing at least a minimum of veterinary care.No, I don't think so, he said Monday.Safford he said he hopes animal control officers will investigate cases like his more thoroughly before seizing pets.We were abused by animal control, he said.Safford's attorney, Freeland's Terry Smith, said he hopes for the same. He said he does not envy the job animal control officers have.It's a tough decision for them to make, he said. Also of note during Safford's trial was a failed attempt by the defense to hold the dog indefinitely and to bill Safford for veterinary bills. Strow ordered Kelly to be returned immediately and absolved Safford of the responsibility for the bills. Strow did acknowledge that animal control did the right thing at the time they seized the dog.Safford has made one change in Kelly's eating routine that may reduce her weight loss. Prior to the court case, the family was giving the dog two aspirin tablets a day to counter the effects of arthritis. Safford said Kelly now gets one tablet a day. "