By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
When you walk in front of their cages at the Del Norte County dog pound, the three dogs react in different ways. Chubbs growls and barks in a threatening manner, Keyra trembles at the back of her cage while Mogley drops his ears and wags his tail in a warm greeting.
All three come from the same home all three have been declared vicious and all three have an appointment to be euthanized.
Chris Lee, owner of the dogs, said he is the victim of a "witch hunt" and his dogs are very friendly.
"They do bark at cats on the road threateningly, and at cars that drive by or pull into the driveway, but it is a playful, talking bark," Lee said in a letter to the Triplicate. "They have never bitten or even acted aggressively with anyone and never even been in a fight with other dogs."
Del Norte County officials disagree. Glenn Anderson, the Del Norte County poundmaster, said the fate of the dogs was determined by the owner's lack of action.
"This is the culmination of three years of complaints," Anderson said yesterday. "This is his third residence in the county where we've had problems with his dogs."
"They just want to bury my dogs to appease the hothead (neighbor)," said Lee. "(They) know full well that my dogs are not a threat to people and with no proof they did anything at all."
Anderson said the dogs do not need to attack or even threaten people to be declared vicious.
"Vicious is not whether or not they attack people, although that is one way to make a determination," Anderson said. "The only way to declare a dog vicious is to hold a hearing, and we did that at Lee's request. And then he didn't even show up."
Six of Lee's current neighbors signed complaints against the dogs. They claim the dogs are constantly running loose and killing pets in the neighborhood, including a cat that was killed on one neighbor's deck.
Lee admits the incident with the cat took place. But many other accusations from his neighbors, and from one neighbor in particular, he said have been concocted.
The argument between the two parties has escalated in recent days when Lee took his case to the Internet. Anderson said yesterday his phone has been ringing off the hook ever since.
"They're wearing me out," Anderson said about the calls. "Many of them (the callers) have a somewhat different mindset after they learn the dogs are wolf mixes."
Lee said there is no proof the dogs have wolf in them.
"I don't believe they are wolf mixes," he said. "I've had them since they were born they're like my children. The mother was a husky-malamute mix and the father was a Pyrenees-husky mix."
Anderson said they are licensed in the county as being a mix of wolf and malamute, the latter being a sled dog. Although Anderson did not say why the county believes they have wolf blood, he said most of the animal-protection groups he has spoken to are less argumentative after hearing that.
"A wolf mix is just an inch away from the wild and these people know that," said Anderson. "It isn't a good mix and they are ... very unpredictable."
Anderson admitted some of the evidence against the dogs was circumstantial, but there was enough to declare them vicious.
"The neighbor witnessed the cat being killed on the back deck," said Anderson. "On another occasion when our people went out there the dogs were gone Lee didn't even know where they were and that was the time a goat was killed."
"No one saw what did it," Lee said about the goat's death. "Another man was at work and his ducks were killed. His neighbor also lost a chicken and saw a dog. He tried to shoot it and it ran away. When this first happened, he said it was a shepherd or a (rottweiler) mix. Now he says it was my three dogs."
Anderson contends ample notice was given to Lee, by telephone and by a note left on Lee's door, on when the hearing would be.
"He didn't show up," said Anderson. "I have to judge whether these (neighbors that did appear) were credible witnesses or if they were just ganging up on him. In my judgment they were credible witnesses."
Lee said he didn't show up because he wasn't given enough notice. "I got like 14 hours notice," he said. "They left a note, which I found laying on the ground about 10 feet from my door. I didn't get a message on my answering machine."
Anderson also said the death sentence may have been commuted if Lee had adhered to certain restrictions after the hearing.
"We gave him opportunities until we were blue in the face," Anderson said. "He had 30 days to secure an enclosure for them, to get liability insurance and get them tattooed. When we went out there, he hadn't done any of them and tried to negotiate terms with us. These are regulations and not a matter that can be negotiated. On top of that, the dogs had gotten out again and we got more complaints."
Lee said he was working on the conditions and pursuing an appeal during the 30 days.
"I thought I would be in court before the 30 days were up," said Lee. "And I had been working on the enclosure but they didn't bother to even look."
Lee said he is actively trying to have a court date set before time runs out for his dogs. Anderson said he has delayed the euthanasia date while Lee goes through the process.
As of Friday, Anderson said, unless something changes, the dogs will be euthanized toward the end of next week.