In three weeks, a Flagstaff grand jury will decide whether the man who shot and killed a local humane society volunteer should be indicted for murder or manslaughter.
While Harold Fish awaits his fate, so do the three dogs he claims were about attack on him the night he killed Grant Kuenzli.
Fish, who admits to firing three rounds into the chest of an unarmed man, could end up in prison -- behind bars -- just like Maggie, Hank and Sheba. Yet, there is no evidence to show the dogs attacked Fish -- there are only tracks in the dirt that show the dogs were even present.
Fish's allegations alone should not seal the fate of the dogs, but investigators have found one document stating Kuenzli's dog Maggie made an aggressive gesture in a courthouse in Mesa, and several complaints to Gila County Animal Control about Hank. There is nothing on Sheba.
The documents on Hank, all stemming from complaints from one neighbor, show much more about his owners than his character. If Hank's owners had properly confined him rather than letting him roam the neighborhood, these damning documents wouldn't exist.
Still, there are no reports that Hank has ever attacked or bitten anyone.
Maggie, the retriever-mix who belonged to Kuenzli, was described as the "perfect" dog. She visited convalescent homes and brought smiles to many faces. Her alleged aggression occurred when her guardian was in a heated verbal discussion with court security guards and she may have gone into protective mode.
Sheba, the 30-pound shepherd mix, is lost in the shuffle. She is an anxious little girl and Kuenzli was working with her to ease her skittishness. While she isn't Lassie and may have special needs, not a shred of evidence suggests she has an aggressive bone in her body.
Investigators at the sheriff's office have not contacted the Payson Humane Society for their records or observations on the dogs. Given that staff and volunteers observed all three for weeks and months, why not get their input?
If there is no physical evidence that the dogs ever touched Fish, why are they being punished? Keeping them locked up is not doing anything but affecting their disposition. If kept confined for a long period, they may become unadoptable. They are being regarded as nothing more than evidence and letting them go to loving homes would damage the chain of custody.
If there are lists of people who want to take the dogs home, is there truly a danger the case could potentially be appealed on the grounds that the chain of custody was broken? They aren't the smoking gun, or a piece of DNA -- they are living creatures who are affected by constant confinement.
We ask County Attorney Terry Hance to file a motion with a judge to allow the dogs the same comforts as Fish is entitled while the case moves through the justice system. Give them a decent life while they await their fate.
The Animal Defense League of Arizona is accepting letters of support and donations to assist the dogs. Their address is ADLA, P.O. Box 1973, Flagstaff, AZ 86002.