Movement To Save Dogs Gathers Momentum

Advertisement

The debate continues on whether the three dogs caught in the middle of the controversial trailside shooting case should be held as evidence at the Flagstaff dog pound or released to guardians while the case creeps its way through the justice system.

Harold Fish, 57, has now been charged with second-degree murder for shooting 43-year-old Payson Humane Society volunteer Grant Kuenzli.

photo

Maggie with Kuenzli

If Fish is indicted by a grand jury Thursday, the dogs could be locked up indefinitely while the case goes to trial.

Maggie, a yellow retriever-mix, Hank, a red chow-mix and Sheba, a brown-and-black shepherd-mix, have been in 4-by-6-foot kennels at the Flagstaff Humane Society since May 11 -- the night Fish shot and killed Kuenzli at a trailhead south of Clint's Well.

Fish said he was under attack by two of the dogs and then Kuenzli, who he said came running at him with a "crazed look in his eyes."

photo

Sheba

Fish fired a warning shot at the ground in front of the dogs and they dispersed. He then fired three rounds from his 10mm semi-automatic handgun into Kuenzli's chest.

Tom and Marilyn Iverson are looking for an attorney to represent the interest of the three dogs who could be euthanized because of Fish's allegations. The Iversons owned 30-pound Sheba for three years until their living situation changed and they were forced to give her up.

The Iversons believed the Payson Humane Society would find a good home for Sheba. A week ago, while reading the Roundup, Tom saw a photo of Sheba and realized that his former pet was caught in the middle of a case that has received national attention.

photo

Hank

"We want Sheba back," Marilyn said. "If the victim's children were witnesses to a crime, would you lock them up?"

Kuenzli had taken his dog, Maggie, and two shelter dogs, Hank and Sheba, camping with him that evening.

Members of the Animal Defense League of Arizona (ADLA) have started a petition to get the dogs promptly evaluated as evidence and then released to foster or permanent homes rather than being locked up. The petition also states that ADLA will pay for temperament testing by a certified animal behaviorist which can serve as evidence in lieu of holding the dogs for evidence.

According to Coconino County Sheriff's Det. Scott Feagan, the dogs are considered evidence in the case until the judge decides their fates.

"Nothing is going to happen to the dogs in the near future," Coconino County Attorney Terry Hance said. "That's all I can say at this time."

Accusation of vicious dog attack

In Fish's statements to sheriff's deputies, he said all he remembers of the alleged dog attack was that two large dogs were coming at him.

"All I can remember were teeth ... and growling," Fish said.

Once Fish fired the warning shot, he did not see the dogs again. A Coconino County Animal Control officer removed Sheba and Maggie from Kuenzli's car, where a door had been left open. The dogs were curled-up, hiding.

Hank was believed to be somewhere in the forest. He was picked up and taken home by a passerby and returned to an animal control officer the following day without any display of aggression.

Documents which have become part of the evidence show that the only physical evidence pertaining to the alleged dog attack are dog tracks where Fish said the dogs ran toward him.

Fish suffered no injury and there is no evidence that the dogs had any physical contact with him.

Documents on dogs

Hank, a 3-year-old, 45-pound dog, lived in Pine until his owners could no longer be responsible for him.

According to documents from Gila County Animal Control, a neighbor called animal control several times saying the dog was loose in the neighborhood and chasing him and his children.

Gila County Animal Control Officer Mike Spaulding said he had his first contact with Hank in December 2002.

In his report, he called Hank a "fear biter" and could bite when cornered. In subsequent encounters, Spaulding describes Hank as friendly, even affectionate.

"At the Payson Humane Society, I found Hank to be friendly as he allowed me to use a leash to remove him from my vehicle," Spaulding said. "On multiple occasions, Hank would lick my hand through the kennel fencing."

Gila County Sheriff's Detective George Ratliff said he was nearly forced to shoot Hank when he went to the house in Pine to interview the owner's daughter and the dog attempted to bite his leg.

Hank was picked up for a final time in April 2004 and the shelter refused to return him to the owners.

During his stay at the shelter, staff and volunteers say they never witnessed aggression in Hank.

The sole document relating to aggressive behavior of Kuenzli's dog, Maggie, was from an incident that occurred inside a Mesa justice court.

Kuenzli brought Maggie into the courthouse on leash, saying she was a service dog and, therefore, permitted to accompany him. Courthouse security stopped Kuenzli who asked to speak to the judge. While the judge intervened, he and court staff reported they witnessed Maggie display aggression toward a patron in the building.

The judge attempted to accommodate Kuenzli by allowing him to enter the courtroom first thing in the morning, before others arrived. Kuenzli filed a claim of discrimination against the city and then the state.

His claim was denied by the Arizona Department of Administration.

The Iversons say their dog, Sheba, was timid, not aggressive.

Fish never describes a dog resembling Sheba as being part of the attack and she has no documented history of aggression.

Initial statements by staff and volunteers at the Flagstaff Humane Society were that they saw no signs of aggression in any of the three dogs, however, they have since been told not to comment.

Payson shelter stays quiet

While Maggie's guardian is dead and she belongs to the Flagstaff shelter, Sheba and Hank belong to the Payson Humane Society.

Marilyn Iverson wants to know why the shelter has not insisted that the dogs be returned.

"Where are they in all this?" Marilyn said. "If I were them, I would be out there demanding the dogs be returned."

Carol Stubbs, legal adviser for the Payson Humane Society, said they are trying to stay out of the controversy. The shelter's decision to keep a low profile is partially due to Fish's public threats to sue the organization for allowing a volunteer to take allegedly "vicious" dogs out in public.

"We don't know what's going to happen," Stubbs said, "but we want to protect the humane society."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.