Killing pets can bring cruelty charges, PA high court rules

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling yesterday that found the state's animal cruelty law is so confusing that pet owners could not be prosecuted for killing their animals.

The case stemmed from the 2006 shooting death 6-year-old pit bull/chow mix, Bouta, in Carbon County. More details on the case below.

The shooting of dogs Pennsylvania made national headlines in 2008 when a commercial kennel shot 80 dogs rather than comply with state orders to get flea treatment for his animals. That act led to additional language in the new dog law making it illegal for commercial kennel owners (those owning or transferring 60 or more dogs a year) to destroy their dogs. Now they must provide paperwork to show that a veterinarian had humanely euthanized the animal. However, smaller kennel owners may still destroy their dogs themselves.

The Associated Press reports that in its ruling:

the Superior Court said [owner Wendy] 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


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.

No one answered the phone late Thursday afternoon at the office of

Carbon County District Attorney Gary Dobias or at the office of Kneller’s

lawyer, Paul Levy.

The ruling came a day after the high court found the Pennsylvania SPCA did not meet the definition of a government entity and therefore is not immune to lawsuits.