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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Dog Killer’s Invocation of Gov. Rick Perry Upheld

(CN) - A Texan who killed a rampaging pit bull properly escaped animal-cruelty charges with an argument borrowed from Gov. Rick Perry, an appeals court ruled.

The events in question occurred on Sept. 2, 2009, when Ryan Chase and his wife were walking their puppy along with a 10-year-old dog named Maka.

Two other dogs, Zeus and Rocky, escaped their backyard and attacked the Chases' dogs.

Chase's wife carried the puppy to safety, but Maka was trapped by the jaws of Zeus, a pit bull that "began shaking Maka like a rag doll," according to the Nov. 19 opinion of the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals.

Zeus' jaws remained clamped on Maka's neck for five minutes. Chase and an intervening neighbor were able to separate the dogs, but Zeus bit both of them in the process.

After taking Maka home, Chase returned to the scene of the attack with a rope. He attached the rope to Zeus and dragged the pit bull two doors down to his house. Zeus managed to bite Chase again.

After tying the rope to the bumper of his car, Chase killed Zeus by cutting the dog's throat.

At his trial for animal cruelty, Chase relied on the Health and Safety Code as a defense, claiming the law authorized Gov. Perry to shoot a coyote that was attacking his dog.

Under the law, "a dog or coyote that is attacking or about to attack or has recently attacked livestock, domestic animals, which includes dogs ... may be killed by a person either witnessing it or involved in it," Chase's counsel argued, as quoted in the recent opinion.

Chase claimed to have researched the law after authorities failed to address a previous attack on his dog.

After the trial court in Bell County let Texas block the Perry defense, Chase was found guilty and sentenced to a year in the county jail.

His sentence was suspended in favor of probation, but the Texas Court of Appeals overturned the conviction based on the Perry defense, which it said had been blocked improperly.

The Texas Criminal Court of Appeals affirmed 7-2 last week.

"The legislature intended to provide a defense to both civil and criminal liability - the obvious reading of the statutory language being that the language authorizing the killing of a dog was intended to create a defense to criminal liability and the conjunctive phrase 'and without liability in damage to the owner of the dog' was meant to ensure that the provision was also a defense to civil liability," Presiding Judge Sharon Keller wrote for the majority.

Judge Lawrence Meyers wrote the dissenting opinion, which says that the Health and Safety Code law was designed to let farmers and ranchers protect their herds without fear of liability to the owners of attacking dogs.

"This was never intended to allow individuals in residential neighborhoods to murder a neighbor's dog after an attack with criminal impunity," Meyers wrote, adding that such an interpretation of the law would "enable defendants to escape conviction for the unjustified murders of dogs."

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