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WAIF files countersuit over Smiley

Whidbey Island Animals’ Improvement Foundation is biting back.

Former volunteers Bob Baker and Barbara Moran of Freeland filed suit against the island-based shelter last November in an effort to save the life of Smiley, a mixed-breed dog living at the Coupeville shelter. WAIF officials reported that the dog was to be euthanized because of aggressive behavior.

This week Mark Theune, an Oak Harbor lawyer representing the shelter, filed a counterclaim against the couple, alleging malicious prosecution, conspiracy to misuse process and frivolous action.

According to the filing, WAIF alleges that Baker and Moran’s lawsuit was made “with knowledge that it is false, unfounded, malicious and without probable cause.”

The shelter also claims that the suit has “damaged” WAIF, and is “part of a conspiracy to misuse judicial process by filing an action known to be false and unfounded.”

The counterclaim calls on the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, award damages for malicious prosecution, abuse of process and reimbursement of WAIF’s legal fees.

As the Smiley saga grows, news coverage of the legal battle has drawn more than 135 online comments at whidbeynewstimes.com and King 5 News of Seattle ran a segment on the doggie dispute.

Baker and Moran, co-chairs of the Pitbull/mix Information Taskforce (PIT), run a blog dedicated to Smiley, which includes links to the court filings; the declaration of Cristine Dahl, founder and director of the Seattle School of Canine Studies; Monroe veterinarian Brad Evergreen; Bernard Perez, Smiley’s former owner; among other character witnesses. The Web site also includes two downloadable video clips of Dahl’s evaluation of the dog’s behavior.

Other pages on the site offer pit/mix identification quizzes and a satirical slideshow on breed specific legislation.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ online community, as well as numerous pit bull breed chat forums, also picked up the story and contain links to an online petition. Initially, Smiley’s backers claimed he was being discriminated against because he was part pit bull, but genetic testing showed that is not true.

The petition asking that Smiley’s life be spared, sponsored by Families Against Breed Bans, boasts more than 1,000 signatures from around the world including Singapore, Greece and Mexico, among other countries. The Web site reads “Save Smiley an innocent dog in Whidbey Island, WA” and lists the “target” as WAIF shelter Manager Shari Bibich.

Bibich said she doesn’t feel threatened by the petition, but she finds its content frustrating.

“What upsets me is the misinformation,” Bibich said about the site and other internet posts about Smiley’s situation, which state that Smiley is “facing a potential death sentence” because he is a pit bull mix.

“That is not the issue,” she said. “It’s his behavior that is the issue.”

Stephen Paysse, WAIF executive director, reported that shelter staff, volunteers, donors and board members are receiving unmarked emails condemning the shelter.

The litigation’s toll is apparent on both sides.

Moran missed the Dec. 10 hearing due to stressed-induced asthma. Bibich missed the same hearing due to a stress-related hospitalization.

Theune will file declarations by volunteers, donors and staff before the next hearing, scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 29 at 3 p.m.

“Community support is every bit as strong, if not stronger, since the start of this,” Paysee said.

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