A Provo ordinance prohibits cruelty to animals but allows owners to kill them in a "reasonable and humane manner" without demonstrating cause or need.
With that interpretation of the law, the Utah Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of a Provo man who botched his initial attempt to kill his pet cocker spaniel.Robert L. Murray, 38, was found guilty of cruelty to animals last year after twice shooting his puppy, Millie, with a shotgun. The first blast almost severed the dog's left front leg and the second, almost 40 seconds later, killed her.
Murray said his shotgun misfired twice. It fired on the third attempt as he was paying more attention to fixing the problem with the weapon than the aim, he said. After returning to his apartment for more shells, he shot the dog again in the head.
Murray insisted he only killed his dog because he was moving and couldn't find anyone to adopt her. He said he believed it was more humane to kill the dog quickly with a gun than to put her in a cage and subject her to some other form of euthanasia.
He was convicted of a Class B misdemeanor under a city ordinance that makes it unlawful to "maim, disfigure, torture, beat, mutilate, burn or scald or otherwise mistreat any animal" and "to destroy any domestic animal except in a reasonable and humane manner."
Fourth District Court Judge Fred Howard concluded the ordinance prohibited the killing of a domestic animal "without cause or need even if the killing is swift and without suffering to the animal."
According to Howard, "The killing of the dog in this case was without cause, even though the defendant had the design of doing so swiftly and without suffering by using a shotgun."
While affirming Murray's conviction, a three-judge appeals panel disagreed with the trial court's approach. Appeals Judge James Z. Davis said Howard interpreted the law as requiring "cause or need" before mistreating an animal or killing a domestic animal.
"The plain language of the (ordinance) does not include such a requirement," Davis wrote, referring to "cause or need."
"Based on the undisputed facts of this case, we hold that, at the very minimum, defendant mistreated this animal by not being better prepared for its disposal and allowing it to suffer as it did," the appeals court said.
Gene Baierschmidt of the Humane Society of Utah said the appeals court ruling doesn't change existing laws that have always allowed individuals to kill their pets in a humane manner.
However, he said such laws are "troubling" because there's no guarantee that private individuals are capable of euthanizing domestic animals in a humane manner. It would be best to leave it to the Humane Society or government shelters, he said.