Animal Rights

Man Goes on Trial for Beating Puppy, Claims Self Defense

| by Animal Legal Defense Fund

Why would a grown man, a leader in his community, purportedly beat a puppy (left) so
viciously that the dog would have to be euthanized? The Toole family has been
asking this question since November 2008, when a neighbor repeatedly punched
their six-month-old puppy, Karley, and struck her in the head with a large rock,
shattering her skull. It’s a heartbreaking case that led Jeff and Shelley Toole
to contact the Animal Legal Defense Fund for assistance. We’ve helped them by
drafting legislation that could change the way California courts regard
companion animals.

Authorities have charged Karley’s alleged attacker, Glynn Johnson, with felony
animal cruelty for an assault witnesses say was unprovoked. They testified in a
pre-trial hearing that after the puppy had run across his yard, Johnson, an
assistant fire chief with Los Angeles County, discovered neighbor Travis Staggs
taking Karley to the Toole’s home on the other side of his own property in an
unincorporated area of Riverside, Calif.

The defendant offered to walk Karley
back to the Tooles himself, so Staggs turned the German shepherd mix over to
him. “Then something in his head snapped and he started beating the dog,” Staggs
told the court. He said that Johnson punched Karley with a closed fist about a
dozen times and then beat her with an 11-inch rock, adding that he tried to stop
the attack, but Johnson pushed him away.

Staggs said Johnson finally
stopped hitting Karley after her body went limp; she then managed to stumble to
a nearby ravine. The Toole’s teenage children, Brandon and Heather, rushed
Karley to a veterinarian and later an animal intensive care unit, but her
injuries were too extensive. In addition to her skull being cracked in three
places, Karley lost an eye and suffered a broken jaw, crushed nasal cavity and a
collapsed ear canal. “I’ve never seen a dog come in with that level of head
injury,” says Angela Howard, DVM, one of the veterinarians who treated Karley.
“I’ve seen pets who have been hit by cars and they were thrown by the car and
suffered fractures to the nose or skull, but I’ve never seen a case where their
head was that badly damaged.”

Karley’s Law
Johnson, who could face up to four years in
prison if convicted, claims it’s a case of self-defense: Karley had bitten down
on his thumb, he says, and the multiple blows he delivered to the puppy’s head
were an effort to get her to release him. But Shelley Toole says Johnson has a
history of violence and should be incarcerated. Unfortunately, though sheriff’s
deputies responded to the crime scene shortly after the assault, Johnson was not
immediately charged. “We wanted Mr. Johnson arrested,” says Toole. “One of our
supporters told me about ALDF, and that they had attorneys who might be able to
help. I went on the ALDF website to research what we could do and try to find
answers to legal questions. I didn’t even have to call them ― the resources section on their site had
all the answers we needed.”

Toole says she was shocked to discover that
the law considers animals to be property. “Animals are not chairs or tables,”
she says. “They are living, breathing beings with feelings, and they are part of
a family. Sadly, there is no civil law for the victims of animal cruelty in
California.” She and her family are dedicated to changing that, not only to
honor Karley’s memory, but to aid future victims of abuse. Stephan Otto, ALDF’s
legislative director, worked with the Tooles to draft “Karley’s Law,” a Civil
Right of Action for Cruelty to an Animal, which will give parties whose animals
are subjected to acts of cruelty the opportunity to bring a civil action against
the perpetrator for the full range of their loss. The law won’t change an
animal’s legal status as property, but if a plaintiff prevails, it will give
courts the authority to order a judgment for all actual and reasonable damages
proved, such as the monetary value of the animal, veterinary expenses, emotional
distress, loss of companionship, court costs and attorney’s fees. Karley’s
Law will also provide punitive damages of at least $1,000 for every intentional
act to which the animal was subjected, as well as give courts the authority to
issue restraining orders and other injunctive relief as they deem

“As it stands now,” says Otto, “collecting an animal’s market
value ― what it would cost to replace him or her — is generally all that’s
available to plaintiffs in the state, so Karley’s Law would be a real step
forward. It doesn’t guarantee any damages, but it will allow animal guardians
their day in court to argue for the full extent of their

Finding Closure
The road from the original
draft of a new bill to the governor signing it into law is a long one, but the
Tooles are happy to see progress is being made. Nevertheless, says Shelley
Toole, they’d like to see more done to protect animals. “How about a law that
requires people who are convicted of animal cruelty to be registered on a
registry, like Megan’s Law?,” she asks, adding that studies show child abusers
and other violent criminals often start off by abusing animals. ALDF has a model
law for just such a registry in its model laws
. “We are going to work with ALDF to see that this registry is
established,” adds Toole. Meanwhile, Johnson’s trial is scheduled to begin on January 7,

Though new laws won’t bring Karley back, they’ll aid future
generations of animals and bring a little comfort to the Tooles. “The Tooles are
the perfect example of individuals who realize that they can do something in
memory of an animal ― something that’s productive and that will benefit all
animals in California,” says Otto.

“The senseless tragedy of what
happened to Karley is still in our mind every day,” says Toole. “Through Karley
and our efforts, maybe other animals’ lives will be saved from cruelty. Maybe
after the trial we can move forward, and maybe in time we will heal, but how do
you ever forget such a horrible act of violence and how much Karley suffered?
The nightmares haven’t gone away.”

The family, which has relocated,
set up a website for Karley and her supporters: