Animal Rights
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 warranted.

“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 loss.”

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 collection. “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, 2010.

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: www.justice4karley.com.