By Ann McCreary
A Carlton woman who is scheduled for trial this month on charges that she stole a dog says she was “rescuing” the animal because it was chained up outdoors in sub-freezing weather last December.
Judy Brezina Camp has been charged with taking a pet, making false or misleading statements to a public servant, and obstructing a law enforcement officer. A jury trial is set for March 27 in Okanogan County District Court.
Camp is charged in connection with an incident that took place on Dec. 6. According to a report by Okanogan County Sheriff’s Deputy Dave Yarnell, Camp removed a dog named Duke from property at 616 Twisp-Winthrop Eastside Road.
Yarnell’s report, dated Dec. 9, said Deputy Ottis Buzzard received a complaint from Juanita Magruder of Carlton on Dec. 8, alleging that someone had stolen her dog. Buzzard told Yarnell, animal control deputy for the sheriff’s department, that there had “apparently been a lot of Internet conversation regarding the dog and the possible theft of the dog” on a local bulletin board, the report said.
“I had previously checked the dog’s status on 12/05/13 and found it to have food, water and shelter,” Yarnell said in his report. “I had also spoken to Magruder about the dog and suggested that they check on the dog more often due to the cold weather.”
Yarnell said he received a call from Magruder about the missing dog on Dec. 9. He called veterinary clinics in the Methow Valley, told them that a male blue heeler named Duke had been taken, and asked them to notify the sheriff’s office if anyone brought in a dog matching the description.
Later that morning Yarnell got a call from Dan DeWeert of Valley Veterinary Clinic in Twisp, who told him a woman was bringing in an older blue heeler for an exam that morning.
Yarnell went to the clinic, where he found Camp and the dog he recognized as Duke. Camp said the dog was named Tank and was her dog, according to Yarnell’s report.
Dispute over dog
When Yarnell told Camp he knew the dog and that it had been reported stolen, “Camp became very upset and told me that she would not give me the dog.” Yarnell reported that Camp admitted that she took the dog after hearing people complain about its situation.
“Camp said it was –5 degrees the night she picked the dog up and took it home. Camp didn’t call in an animal complaint or notify the sheriff’s office that she had taken the dog and for what reason,” Yarnell said in the report.
Yarnell said he discussed with Camp the “illegal nature of what she had done and that there was nothing criminal in how the dog was being cared for,” the report said.
“I told Camp that it wasn’t the best situation and I had already spoken to the Magruders about that, but it was not criminal and therefore she had no right to steal their dog,” Yarnell wrote.
The deputy told Camp he was “taking control of the dog,” but Camp tried to remove the dog from the veterinary clinic and load it into her car while the deputy was getting a health report from DeWeert, the deputy’s report continued.
When Yarnell attempted to stop Camp from putting the dog into her car, she “fought with me, elbowing me in the rib cage as I told her she could not take the dog and to remove it from her vehicle,” according to the deputy’s report. At that point Yarnell told Camp she was under arrest and Camp allowed him to take the dog and place it in a kennel in the vet’s office.
Camp was issued a citation for theft of a pet and released. Yarnell said he would contact the Magruders about the dog. Later that day, Camp called the owners and offered them $500 for the dog, which they accepted.
In a recent interview, Camp said she “had to go scrounge up the money to cover” the check she wrote for the dog, which she calls Tank.
She found people willing to donate for the purchase of the dog and for veterinary bills. Camp said she left the check at the vet’s office for the owner to pick up, and then returned to retrieve Tank.
There were no records at any veterinary offices in the valley that the dog had been vaccinated, Yarnell wrote. Magruder told him the dog, about 6 years old, had been vaccinated as a puppy but had not had any veterinary care since then.
In a written statement provided in connection with the case, DeWeert said the dog “was markedly obese, appeared very arthritic and the eyes were very red and runny” when Camp brought him in on Dec. 9.
Ten days later, on Dec. 19, Camp brought Tank back to be neutered. DeWeert said during the procedure he noted that the dog “had multiple scars on his scrotum. My thought at this time was someone had either tried to neuter him or at sometime in his life he had frozen his scrotal area,” he wrote.
In his statement, DeWeert said a dog of Tank’s size and build should probably weigh 40-45 pounds. He weighed 66.8 pounds on Dec. 9 and was down to 64.6 pounds on Dec. 19, according to the statement, which also noted that “Tank on 12/19 was also much more responsive to what we were doing to and around him.”
Camp said she first became aware of the dog while reading a local Internet bulletin board the evening of Dec. 6, and saw a number of messages about a dog tied up in a junkyard without adequate shelter a few miles north of Twisp.
Some writers said the dog had spent three years chained to a flatbed trailer, and some said they and other people had contacted law enforcement officials on various occasions about the dog.
Camp drove from her home in Carlton to the location described in the postings on the bulletin board. She said she found the dog attached by a short chain to a flatbed trailer. “He could crawl under it [the trailer],” but it offered little protection from cold or wind, she said.
“There was a little doghouse there but it was way too small for him,” Camp said. The dog had food and water, but they were frozen, Camp said.
“The temperature that night with the wind chill was supposed to go to 24 below. I learned about it at 5:30 Friday night, and at 11:30 the dog was on my back porch with food, water and a heated place to stay,” Camp said.
She said her intention was to “go get the dog, take it to the vet on Monday … then I was going to go find the dog’s owner. I was going to do it legally. I never said I was going to keep the dog … by hook or by crook I was going to find another home for the dog.”
Camp was initially charged with one count of taking a pet. Earlier this month two additional charges — making false or misleading statements to a public servant and obstructing a law enforcement officer — were added. Each charge is a gross misdemeanor with a penalty of up to 364 days in jail and/or a $5,000 fine, said Brendan Platter, Okanogan County deputy prosecuting attorney.
Platter said the dog was being kept by its owner on the Eastside Road property, which belongs to a friend, “to keep people off the property.” The dog was being provided food and water, Platter said.
“Some people had reported the possibility of neglect,” Platter said. He said Deputy Yarnell “had been out there at least once fairly recently to investigate the allegation and his conclusion was there was nothing criminal going on.”
Camp, who has been provided a public defender to represent her in the case, said she has been unwilling to accept proposed plea bargains to avoid going to trial.
“I said no, I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t steal the dog. I rescued the dog,” said Camp, who currently has Tank at her home.
Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said his office receives about 700 animal complaints a year. “Each case is different. We get calls on horses, cattle, dogs, cats, emus, you name it, we get it,” Rogers said. “Most of the calls usually are that there is not enough food or water.”
In response to complaints, deputies go to the scene, contact the owners to explain the nature of the complaint, “and make sure that there is shelter, food, water and no medical issues,” Rogers said.
“If we feel there are medical conditions or a severe case of neglect, we will bring in a veterinarian to tell us what they think before we take animals,” the sheriff said. “The whole process can take a lot of time and effort to resolve.”
In order to remove an animal, a search warrant must be obtained through the courts, Rogers said. Then the animal has to be housed somewhere until all court proceedings are done, and a determination is made whether the animal is returned to the owners or not.
“If the deputy feels there is enough food, water and shelter and is working with the owners, then probably we wouldn’t take the animal,” Rogers said. “They are not easy cases and you have to remember that a lot of folks in this county don’t put their animals in their homes. A lot of the animals are always outside.”