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Smiley gets the once-over by dog experts

Cristine Dahl, of Seattle Dogworks, tested Smiley’s temperament in one of WAIF’s outdoor fenced areas. The dog followed most of Dahl’s commands, but jumped and snapped at her face several times which caused concern among WAIF employees.  - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Cristine Dahl, of Seattle Dogworks, tested Smiley’s temperament in one of WAIF’s outdoor fenced areas. The dog followed most of Dahl’s commands, but jumped and snapped at her face several times which caused concern among WAIF employees.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

Smiley the pound dog spent his holidays being studied and tested as two sides in a legal battle continued to fight over his fate.

The Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation thinks he’s too dangerous to be adopted and should be euthanized, while former WAIF volunteers Bob Baker and Barbara Moran are trying to convince a judge to spare the dog’s life, by allowing them selves or someone else to give the dog a home.

Adam Karp, the animal law attorney hired to represent Smiley, asked the court for permission to test his DNA and to assess the dog for dominant and aggressive behavior toward people, male dogs and small animals.

Karp requested the DNA analysis to determine Smiley’s breed based on Baker and Moran’s allegation that the shelter discriminates against canines deemed full-blooded or pit-mix breeds and unfairly denied their request to adopt Smiley based on what they say are breed-specific adoption standards at the shelter.

Smiley, who lives at WAIF’s Coupeville animal shelter, got a lot of attention as a result of DNA and behavioral testing ordered Dec. 10 by Island County Superior Court Judge Vickie Churchill.

For Smiley, the DNA collection probably felt like an unnecessary visit with the vet, and the behavioral test more like a rare chance to romp in a layer of fresh snow. But to the court system, the chilly morning play-session represented a sampling of Smiley’s true colors.

Dr. Brad Evergreen of Evergreen Holistic Vet Hospital in Monroe, drew blood and took a cheek swap from Smiley on Dec. 15. The samples required several weeks to process.

“Based on DNA testing, Smiley is not a pitbull dog or pitbull dog mix,” Karp wrote in a recent filing.

Kevin Jones, chief science officer and vice president of EDP Biotech supervised the DNA analysis of Smiley’s cheek swap samples.

“The pattern of DNA seen for Smiley was not at all like the pitbull dog breeds,” he wrote in a Jan. 7 statement.

The test results labeled the dog’s breed as primarily a boxer mix with evidence of Besenji, chow, Italian greyhound and Belgian Tervuren. WAIF denies that breed has evern been an issue.

Cristine Dahl, founder of Seattle Dogworks and author of “Good Dog 101”, evaluated Smiley’s behavior during a 45-minute session with the dog at WAIF’s Coupeville facility.

Smiley generally followed Dahl’s commands during the outdoor portion of the test, although he jumped on her several times. During the indoor portion of the test, Smiley was distracted by a vocal cat in an adjoining room, but otherwise appeared calm.

Dahl did not directly test Smiley’s reaction to other dogs or cats.

“Smiley remains adoptable and poses no appreciable risk of harm to staff and volunteers,” Karp wrote in his report, attributing the conclusion to information provided by Evergreen and Dahl.

But WAIF called in its own experts, who reached different conclusions. The organization called on the Progressive Animal Welfare Society to do a separate evaluation of Smiley’s behavior, including “prey drive.” According to Stephen Paysse, executive director of WAIF, the PAWS evaluation tested for both dominant behavior and small prey aggression.

Caren Malgesini of PAWS described Smiley as “spring-loaded.”

“I believe him to be a time bomb waiting to go off,” she wrote in her Dec. 16 report. “His behaviors will continue to deteriorate in his current environment ... shelter staff (are) potentially in danger every time they interact with Smiley.”

Malgesini didn’t think it was a good idea to let anyone adopt Smiley. “I cannot advise placing Smiley at this point,” she wrote. “I believe him to be a danger to other animals and possibly humans.”

WAIF also hired Carol Gannaway, of Clinton, to test Smiley’s behavior. Gannaway, formerly an animal control officer in Orange County and Seal Beach, Calif., and 19-year owner of Canine Potential, a Clinton-based dog training center, described Smiley as “a danger to himself and any animal that crosses his path,” in her Dec 23 report.

Initially Smiley was an adoptable dog, according to WAIF officials. Now, after almost two years at the kennel, the dog is showing signs of kennel stress, including dominant behavior and snapping at volunteers, actions which are recorded in WAIF’s dog walking logs. The bites have not drawn blood, Paysse said, but he’s concerned that the dog will become increasingly aggressive.

WAIF also took into consideration Island County Animal Control Officer Carol Barnes’ April 2008 evaluation of Smiley.

Barnes reported that Smiley “while walking on a leash/choker was very strong, trying to pull (Barnes) while walking, not obedience trained, however he would sit when asked but not consistently.”

Barnes’ report also noted Smiley’s strong prey drive.

“He immediately responded by lunging/growling pulling (Barnes) toward the cat cages,” during an indoor part of the test, she wrote, adding that Smiley also showed aggression toward male dogs while he was contained inside a kennel.

Animal control recommended that Smiley be placed in a home without cats or other small animals, and that WAIF staff use caution if placing him in a home with another dog.

The court date to determine Smiley’s fate has been delayed. Karp will ask the court to spare the dog’s life at the newly scheduled court date on Thursday, Jan. 29.

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