Whidbey animal shelter sued over plans to euthanize dog

COUPEVILLE — Smiley the dog survived to see another day, but it isn’t clear just how long he has to live.

In a case that’s polarized animal lovers on Whidbey Island, two former animal shelter donors are suing a shelter over the life of the dog.

Bob Baker and Barbara Moran, who are married, say Smiley could be adopted, but shelter officials won’t change their minds about humanely killing him.

The nonprofit shelter run by the Whidbey Animals Improvement Foundation says the mixed-breed dog is too aggressive to adopt out and recently bit one of their volunteers, although the person wasn’t seriously hurt.

An Island County Superior Court judge on Friday, before a packed courtroom, ordered a temporary stay on euthanizing Smiley but said the dog’s supporters failed to show that the shelter is doing anything wrong, dismissing the suit.

The WAIF shelter first received Smiley two years ago. His former owner, Bernard Perez, didn’t have the money to build a fence, and the dog kept getting picked up by animal enforcement officers. Finally, unable to pay repeated fines, Perez signed the dog that he called Snappy over to the shelter with hopes that the dog would be adopted into a new home.

Renamed Smiley, the dog was listed on WAIF’s Web site as being available for adoption. From the start, though, the dog showed aggressive behavior, said Stephen Paysse, the organization’s executive director.

About 12 people, including Baker and Moran, tried to adopt the dog, but all failed to meet the minimal-kill shelter’s requirements for keeping a dog such as Smiley, Paysse said. Some had small animals and children, others had male dogs of about the same size as Smiley, or no fenced yard.

Baker and Moran argued that Smiley’s bad behavior was a result of being locked up too long in his cage at the shelter.

Baker and Moran want to pay to have the dog released to the Academy of Canine Behavior in south Snohomish County for retraining. WAIF officials said Smiley is too aggressive to be sent out into the community and they don’t want the organization liable for any harm the dog might cause.

After Judge Vickie Churchill’s ruling Friday, Baker said he still has hope that the dog can be spared.

“I am disappointed that Smiley is still in a cage,” Baker said. “I just can’t believe that WAIF would meet us in court to protect their right to kill a dog.”

Adam Karp, attorney for Baker and Moran, plans to ask Churchill to reconsider her decision. If not, he’ll petition the state Court of Appeals to take a look at the case.

Liability is the major issue for WAIF, the organization’s lawyer, Mark Theune, said.

“WAIF has a moral responsibility to keep people safe,” he said.

Paysse said Smiley jumped up and bit a volunteer. Though the bite didn’t break the skin, the dog now poses a great risk to people, he said.

WAIF supporters and those who agree with Baker and Moran are all passionate about animals, Paysse said. Volunteers at the animal shelter are heartbroken about Smiley’s probable future.

“It’s not a win when a dog is put to sleep,” he said.

Reporter Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427 or gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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