Judge spares dog's life—for now

Smiley still makes his home at the WAIF shelter near Coupeville as he awaits his fate. Shelter managers say he needs to be euthanized but his life was extended by a judge’s decision this week. - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Smiley still makes his home at the WAIF shelter near Coupeville as he awaits his fate. Shelter managers say he needs to be euthanized but his life was extended by a judge’s decision this week.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

Smiley's appointment with death has been delayed by a judge in Island County Superior Court.

Two sides argued Smiley's fate Wednesday in front of Judge Vickie Churchill, who gave the dog a reprieve in the unusual case.

Smiley, a mixed breed dog at the Whidbey Animals' Improvement Foundation animal shelter, once had a profile that read, "Smiley loves to go for walks, and although a muscular dog, walks easily on a loose lease. He's waiting to become your best friend for life."

And, although he was once a "favorite with both staff and volunteers," Smiley's disposition has changed since he first arrived at WAIF almost two years ago, Shari Bibich, shelter operations director, told the judge.

The dog is showing signs of stress, said Bibich, meaning that he is acting domineering and out of character.

According to Adam Karp, an animal law attorney representing Barbara Moran and Robert Baker who wish to adopt Smiley, WAIF pulled the dog's online profile "on or about Nov. 7, 2008," the day WAIF's attorney Mark Theune notified Karp that the pit bull mix would be euthanized on Nov. 13.

Karp said Smiley has been documented as "a good dog" in WAIF's daily dog tracking logs since his arrival at the shelter.

But Stephen Paysse, the executive director for WAIF, said the dog snapped at volunteers, and on one occasion, jumped on and snapped at the face of a visitor looking to adopt an animal.

"It's not about Smiley being a pit bull mix, it's about the behaviors he's exhibited over time," he said.

WAIF decided to pull the dog from the pool of adoptable pets because of his aggressive behavior, said Paysse, adding, "He's nipped and snapped, but not drawn blood."

"It's not about Bob (Baker) and Bobby (Moran). ... They're not the only people turned down for adoption," he said of WAIF's decision to not allow the couple to adopt Smiley.

Bibich said WAIF decided Baker and Moran's home was not a suitable place for Smiley because they owned a rooster, a fox terrier, one female pit bull and a male mixed breed dog. The also did not have a fenced enclosure for Smiley, although the couple pledged to build a $3,500 enclosure for the dog pending his adoption. The terrier has since died of heart failure.

After mulling over the arguments, Judge Churchill granted a temporary restraining order to Moran and Baker, preventing WAIF from euthanizing Smiley.

"This is the first case I've seen on it," Churchill said of a case to save a dog from euthanasia. She's been a judge in the Island County Superior Court for 12 years.

Karp suggested a bond of $300 to $500 for the dog pending a hearing, but Theune recommended a much steeper bond of $100,000 because the shelter lacks liability insurance for their volunteers.

At this point, Moran began sobbing loudly, prompting Churchill to tell her to control her emotions or leave the court room.

Churchill's ruling, pending the posting of a $10,000 bond by Moran and Baker, bought the dog some time. Moran hopes that the evidence presented at a special hearing will allow her to adopt Smiley.

WAIF would not allow the couple to adopt the dog because they did not meet WAIF's criteria for pit bull mix adoptions, said Bibich.

And they never submitted a formal application, which is available at the front counter of the Coupeville WAIF shelter, she said.

But Moran said that they were denied adoption before they never had the chance to fill out an application.

Their attorney, Adam Karp, said that the couple was never given the opportunity to submit the application form — a switch from their previous adoption experience with WAIF when they took custody of a pit bull named Katrina.

"WAIF and Bibich did not offer Baker and Moran an adoption application form for Smiley, as previously provided for Katrina's adoption and as outlined on the WAIF Web site," Karp wrote on behalf of the couple's motion for a temporary restraining order.

"Where's the process?" Moran asked.

The couple took out a second mortgage on their home to pay for legal fees stemming from Smiley's adoption. After the court ruling, they are prepared to borrow more against the value of their home to save the animal from euthanasia.

"We don't even have to be the people to adopt Smiley," Moran said. "As long as he's adopted to a good home and not killed. That's all we want."

WAIF is a minimum-kill facility, meaning that the shelter only puts down animals that are aggressive or suffering.

"This isn't something we ever take lightly," Stephen Paysse said after the hearing. "These decisions are never made easy."

Moran and Baker offered to sign a release of liability against WAIF, meaning that the shelter would not be held responsible if the dog attacked another person or animal. The problem is, said Paysse, if Smiley harmed a neighbor's animal, the neighbor could still sue WAIF for adopting out a dog that has been documented as dangerous.

Still, Baker and Moran are willing to do whatever they can to save the dog.

"You want to know why I love Smiley? Because he's hopeful. He hasn't given up on people," Moran said after the hearing.

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