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Owner can be prosecuted in dog shooting

Published January 04. 2010 05:00PM

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Thursday said there was ample evidence to support a woman's conviction in the shooting death of her dog, reversing a lower-court decision that gave animal owners broader latitude.

In a one-paragraph order, the justices said the Superior Court erred in finding the state's animal cruelty law so confusing and ambiguous that owners could not be prosecuted for killing their dogs or cats.

The case involves the 2006 shooting of Wendy Colleen Kneller's 6-year-old pit bull-chow mix, Bouta.

Superior Court said Kneller, who lives outside Weissport, told a state trooper that Bouta had bitten her child. Prosecutors said she gave her boyfriend a .40-caliber handgun and told him to shoot the dog. He tied up the dog, beat it several times with a shovel, then shot it, according to the ruling.

The justices said Thursday that the Superior Court should have given prosecutors the benefit of the doubt because they won the case in Carbon County court.

"The facts, viewed accordingly, reveal no immediate need to kill the dog, a directive by respondent to her co-defendant to kill the dog, and the unquestionably malicious beating of the dog before it was shot," the high court said. "These facts provide sufficient evidence to support respondent's conviction ... and should not have been undone because of considerations of a dog owner's authority."

The Superior Court had overturned Kneller's conviction, ruling 8-1 that if the Legislature wants to make it a crime to kill one's own dog or cat, it should do so in clear language.

But the dissenting Superior Court judge, Correale F. Stevens, said that letting people shoot dogs for no reason "would replace the call of 'Lassie, come home,' with 'Lassie, run for your life."'

The Supreme Court sent the case back to Superior Court with directions for it to follow Stevens' dissent.

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