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Thursday, Jan 24, 2008County: Cowlitz
Disposition: Dismissed (Conditional)
Person of Interest: Mark Whitaker
Case Updates: 1 update(s) available
In late January, Mark Whitaker stepped onto his deck, took aim with his rifle and shot a dog that he said was bounding after a deer across his Rose Valley property.
For years, roaming dogs have been causing havoc for Whitaker and his Rose Valley neighbors. Whitaker said this particular animal had attacked his own dog months earlier. Whitaker said he'd fired his pistol into the ground to scare it off. And, late last year, a pack of dogs was suspected of killing and maiming several llamas in the area.
On this afternoon, Whitaker said, he fired three shots. The dog, a Laborador mix, dropped on the third.
"It was a predator. It had been a problem to our animal," he said. "It was chasing a deer and I was ticked and I said, 'That's it.' So I shot it."
But it didn't end there.
Less than an hour later, Whitaker went to make sure the dog was dead. It wasn't. The animal had crawled about 30 feet to the edge of Whitaker's property. So he shot it several times again with his pistol, he said, and "left it for dead."
Yet, the dog still didn't die. In the hours that followed, the dog crawled up to the road where it was found, still alive, by children stepping off a school bus.
That evening, Whitaker said, the furious brother of the dog's owner, who had to finally dispatch the animal himself, showed up at his house. And, around midnight, a Cowlitz County Sheriff's deputy stopped by and cited Whitaker for "recklessly" killing someone else's pet, a misdemeanor that can carry a $500 fine and jail time.
The Jan. 24 incident has raised the question of when it's legal for rural residents to shoot a dog on their property. Neighbors, many still bitter from a rash of dog attacks that maimed and killed nearly a half dozen llamas in November, have rallied to Whitaker's defense. And Cowlitz County Commissioner Kathleen Johnson, who met last week with Rose Valley residents about the area's ongoing dog problem, said she has written a letter to the court on Whitaker's behalf.
He is expected to appear in court on the charge Thursday.
Whitaker, a 52-year-old freight car repairman who lives on disability, said he feels awful that the dog suffered, but he doesn't understand why he's in trouble. Dogs are commonly dumped in the Rose Valley area, he said, and neighbors increasingly fear for their livestock.
He said there was another dog on his property at the same time, which he let escape because it had a collar.
"I thought I would help the community," Whitaker said. "The owners, I didn't know who they were. I didn't know who it belonged to."
The phone message was left for the owner of the dog, who left a message later with The Daily News saying he would be unavailable this week to be interviewed.
On Tuesday, Sheriff Bill Mahoney said Rose Valley residents "absolutely have a right to protect themselves and their own property." But, he said, the law says property owners can shoot dogs that are attacking livestock. By contrast, the dog Whitaker shot was chasing a deer, which wasn't Whitaker's property. The law, Mahoney said, "relates to cows, horses, sheep, chickens, that sort of thing."
"There is a distinction," he said.
It doesn't help that the dog in this case endured such a terrible death, Sheriff's Capt. Mark Nelson said. "Of course, the humanitarian thing is to make sure that the dog is dead," he said.
Still, Whitakers' neighbors are incensed that he is being cited for protecting his land and say the Sheriff's office's move sends the wrong message.
"We're all up in arms about it," said Susan Calhoun, who lives in Rose Valley and, in November, shot at four dogs who had killed a neighbor's baby llama. "We're just spitting nails."
"We all want our livestock to be safe," said Calhoun, who owns llamas, donkeys and sheep. "Somehow they need to get the message out that these dogs need to be kept home."
Johnson, the county commissioner, said she also doesn't understand why Whitaker was cited.
"This is just absurd," Johnson said of the situation. "You have some packs of dogs attacking and killing and you do something to the dog and you get cited for it? I don't get it."
Whitaker's neighbors, Johnson said, are understandably frustrated and nervous.
"If they should do anything when these dogs enter their property, they could be facing charges," she said. "They don't know how to stop the dogs."
|The Cowlitz County prosecutor's office this week dropped a misdemeanor charge against a Rose Valley man who caused an uproar after he shot his neighbor's dog.|
Prosecutor Sue Baur said Mark Whitaker, 52, must pay the dog's owners $500 for their loss. In exchange, the charge against him has been dismissed.
It was the case of a pet that suffered, of neighbors angry over roaming dogs shredding their livestock and of a man who said he was just trying to protect his property from what he thought was an aggressive animal.
In January, Whitaker stepped onto his porch and opened fire on Smokey, a Laborador that was chasing a deer across his yard.
Whitaker said he shot the dog three times, watched it drop, then went inside. But Smokey survived. Some time later, after discovering the dog was still breathing, Whitaker shot it yet again. And again Whitaker left it for dead. But even that didn't kill it. In the hours that followed, Smokey crawled up to the road where he was found by a child.
Smokey's owners were outraged, not just that their dog had been shot, but that it had suffered for hours before it was finally put down. They called the Sheriff's office, which cited Whitaker for illegally shooting someone else's pet. The charge could have resulted in jail time.
But Whitaker's neighbors rallied to his defense. Many are still angry over a rash of November dog attacks that maimed or killed a half-dozen llamas in the area. Rose Valley, they said, has been crawling with stray dogs for years, and Whitaker was only trying to help.
Baur said her office took the case's unusual circumstances into account when it struck this week's deal. And, she said, prosecutors do not believe Whitaker's intentions were malicious.
Shooting the dog may not have been "the best way to have handled the situation by far," Baur said.
"But," she said, "I'm not interested in convicting someone for conviction sake. We have to have more respect for the law than that. It's applied judiciously and carefully and fairly."
Under the terms of the settlement, Whitaker said, he had to write a letter of apology to Smokey's owners. He said Friday that he's pleased with the outcome and relieved to have the ordeal behind him.
"Everything's all taken care of," he said.
Shonda Modin, Smokey's owner, said she, too, is satisfied.
"I'm just glad it's done and over," she said. "We didn't want it to be a big neighborhood uproar."
Still, Modin, who lives on Bodine Road with her husband and three small children, said, "nothing we do will bring (Smokey) back. So we're just going to pay attention to the dog we do have and take care of him."
Since Smokey's death, Buddy, the Modin's surviving dog, has been kept on a long tether so he can't escape, she said. The family, Modin said, is also building a "huge" kennel for Buddy.
"I'm not giving anybody a chance to do that to our pets again," she said.
Susan Calhoun, one of the neighbors who supported Whitaker, said the $500 payment effectively rewarded the dog's owners for letting their pet stray.
"That means, 'Hey, let your dogs run loose,' " she said. "If they kill somebody's livestock, who cares?"
Cowlitz County commissioner Kathleen Johnson intervened in the case earlier this month, saying she sympathized with Rose Valley residents who had lost livestock to dog attacks. She sent a March 6 e-mail to a district court judge asking for leniency for Whitaker. The judge, having received information about the case outside the courtroom and from a third party, offered to recuse himself. Johnson later acknowledged that her e-mail amounted to a breach of protocol.
This week, Baur said Johnson's actions "in no way had anything to do with our office's decision on how to handle (the case)."
On Friday, Johnson said she hopes Rose Valley's dog problem can still be resolved. The county struck a deal this month with the humane society to provide animal control services in rural areas. That, Johnson, said, should help. But, she said she believes neighbors there are still leery.
"I'm not hearing a lot of trust yet," she said.
|Source: The Daily News - March 29, 2008|
Update posted on Mar 29, 2008 - 9:43PM
- The Daily News - March 12, 2008
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