It was a case of mistaken identity--or so the owner of a shaggy white dog named Blizzard charged. Yet proving the Great Pyrenees' innocence in the fatal attack on a tiny Pomeranian has been a daunting task--too daunting, according to a state Court of Appeals ruling that came out yesterday.
Steiner's initial description of the villain did not match Blizzard (pictured above), who lived nearby. Yet, Steiner's description changed over time. Four months after the attack, a Pierce County animal control officer officially designated Blizzard a "dangerous animal." The designation requires an owner to keep a dog confined at all times--or risk criminal sanctions.
Blizzard's owner, Heidi Downey, contended Blizzard couldn't have done it because he was in a kennel at the time. But when she appealed the designation, she had to pay for the privilege--first $250 for an auditor's review and then, when that went against her, $500 for a hearing, which went against her too.
Downey filed suit claiming that she shouldn't have to pay to exercise her right to appeal. And the Court of Appeals agreed, finding that the dog owner's right to due process was violated.
Adam Karp, Downey's attorney and a well-known animal rights advocate, tells Seattle Weekly that this is the first case in the country he knows of that addresses whether the government can charge for this kind of appeal. (King County does not do so, but other counties around the state do, according to Karp.)
The fees weren't the only problem with Pierce County's handling of the case, according to the ruling. The county has a low bar to determine that an animal is dangerous and inadequate standards of proof in the appeals that follow. The county should at least require a "preponderance of evidence," the ruling directed.
In this particular case, the judges found insufficient evidence to render Blizzard a canine criminal. Even if the dog did attack Kayla, there was no proof that Blizzard did so unprovoked, as charged, since Steiner had her back turned at the outset of the attack.
Blizzard is therefore a free dog once again.