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Monday, December 31, 2007

Dog Murder in Boise, Part I

(Note: Radiograph shows bullet lodged just below Bailey's spine.)

"911 Emergency, can I help you?"

"My neighbor just shot my dog!"

It was Saturday morning, May 20, 2006, in an upscale Boise cul de sac. Sarah Minnis, nearly hysterical on her cell phone, stared at her border collie mix, lying motionless in the street as friends and neighbors gathered around him. Among those observing him was Bruce Murphy, her across-the-street neighbor, who had just shot Sarah's dog in the hip.

Sarah had been deadheading flowers in her front yard that morning, with well-trained Bailey sitting close at her side on a two-foot traffic leash. She dropped the leash to swat a bee away from him. At that instant, Bailey saw Mr. Murphy walking his dog, a Springer Spaniel named Fergie, across the street. Bailey bolted away from Sarah, ignoring her commands to come back. He did what so many normal, gregarious dogs would do when they saw their own species; he ran to Fergie, stood over her, and did a high-tail sniff. Fergie rolled on her back between her owner's legs. Bailey persisted in sniffing and invited Fergie to jaw-wrestle. Fergie started vocalizing (yelping) as many dogs of her emotional type will do in that situation.

Sarah ran after her dog, angry at his disobedience and apologizing profusely to her neighbor. She grabbed his leash and turned toward home. As they turned and began to walk away, with Bailey close at her side on the short leash, Murphy pulled out a .32 Beretta handgun and shot Bailey point-blank in the left hip. The bullet hit Bailey's spine, and he went down immediately. He was unable to move his hindquarters at all. An electrician working on Sarah's garage light saw the whole thing. He came over and stayed with Bailey while Sarah ran to make her 9-1-1 call. Then he carried Bailey to Sarah's car so she could race him to the vet.

Bailey was so badly injured that there was no choice but to euthanize him immediately.The police showed up and took a report, but Mr. Murphy was never cited for reckless endangerment, discharging a weapon in the city limits, or for anything else. He did have a concealed-carry permit, and he convinced the police that he had to shoot Bailey to save his own dog.

That was the start of a 15-month-long lawsuit that climaxed in a civil trial last week when a jury of eight women and four men returned a verdict. The plaintiffs: Sarah Minnis and her husband. The defendant: Bruce Murphy, the shooter. Sarah and her husband were suing Bruce Murphy for shooting their dog, Bailey, without just cause.

This is their story, in brief. As a dog owner, you'll be able to relate to it...perhaps to both sides. But I think you will be shocked at the verdict.

In August '06, Sarah's attorney contacted me in Yakima. She'd heard I was a pretty good dog behaviorist, and she wanted me to go over Bailey's records and all the other documents from eyewitnesses and people who knew him. It was my job to determine whether Bailey was an aggressive dog that needed shooting on May 20.

After reading all the accounts from witnesses, statements from his trainers and doggy day care providers, and records from his vets, I determined that Bailey was not aggressive at all. He was about two years old and neutered. Sarah and Robert had adopted him at the Boise Humane Society where he'd been featured as "Dog of the Week." He'd been screened for aggression and he had none.

Sarah and Robert were exemplary dog owners, like many of you. They had no children, they were both working professionals, and they took dog-parenting very seriously. Sarah was a perfectionist. Bailey had the best of everything, to include comprehensive veterinary care, lots of dog-training in group classes with Sarah, and lots of doggy day care. His chief trainers and day care providers were Richard and Linda Yanez, formerly of Yakima. (Richard and Linda started as my students 12 years ago in Randall Park. They did well, even got into obedience competition, and eventually decided to move to Boise where they established "The Dog House" doggy day care and training facility. To date, Richard is the only person outside Yakima who offers "Leadership Classes" patterned precisely after the Manning program.)

Bailey's only problem was separation anxiety, but that never manifested itself as any type of aggression. He was a high-energy, very sensitive dog who took direction well and adored his owners. He was a godsend to Sarah and Robert, and their lives revolved around him.The shooting, Bailey's death, and the tension of living across the street from the shooter had a horrible and lasting effect on Sarah. Within a few months Sarah and Robert felt they had no choice but to file suit against Murphy for unjustly shooting their beloved dog. They hired a brilliant, intense and principled young attorney with a love for animals.

Sarah's attorney left no stone unturned in her investigation of what "really" happened. Whose version was correct? According to Murphy (the shooter), Bailey had been savagely attacking his dog, Fergie. "He was hell bent on killing my dog," he stated in his deposition. "I had no choice," he said, but to shoot Bailey.

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