In the midst of community discussions about animal welfare, spurred by an especially egregious case of animal neglect, a different animal cruelty case is set to go to trial in Island County Superior Court.
Bart H. Klempel, a 64-year-old Camano Island resident, is accused of shooting a pellet gun and killing a dog named Pluto that was staying with a family at a neighboring vacation rental home on March 30, 2021, according to court documents.
Prosecutors charged Klempel with animal cruelty in the first degree on June 24, 2021.
Island County Prosector Greg Banks and a deputy prosecutor will be trying the case, which is scheduled for Feb. 14. Klempel is represented by Bellevue attorney Scott Wonder.
A report by a former Island County animal control officer states that a family with children had been staying at the rental for less than a week when the shooting occurred. The father reported that he was out in the yard when he heard a loud popping sound and heard Pluto cry. The black lab ran to him “scared and hurt” and then laid down by the front door. The dog was taken to a veterinarian but succumbed to the injury.
The man saw a neighbor, later identified as Klempel, who allegedly admitted to shooting the dog with the pellet gun because “he was pooping in the corner area where the two properties meet,” the officer’s report states.
The officer wrote that Pluto may have gone onto Klempel’s property unknowingly because a section of the fence was gone and he displayed “zero aggression.”
According to a court document filed by Klempel’s attorney, Klempel did not mean to hurt the dog, is actually a dog lover and was just trying to scare the pooch away. The document states that Klempel and his wife have a disabled granddaughter they help care for. Klempel was trying to protect her from the dog as feces near her play area would be dangerous because of her compromised health; also, her lack of awareness of any danger posed by an approaching dog posed a risk, the documents state.
The issue of animal welfare rules and enforcement was brought to the forefront of Island County awareness after two horses were found starved to death on a North Whidbey property on the day before Christmas. The sheriff’s office had been unable to find a replacement animal control officer since the long-time officer retired a year ago, plus many people felt county codes and policies regarding animals are inadequate. Sheriff Rick Felici said he is rebuilding the program and has started a group to get input from residents and experts.
Prosecutors charged 52-year-old Kristi L. Finch in Island County Superior Court with five counts of animal cruelty in the first degree and two counts of animal cruelty in the second degree. Her arraignment is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 30. According to court documents, 11 horses, 24 dogs, 31 cats, two pigs, four chinchillas and some rabbits on her property were seized, surrendered or given away.