From the Bench: Humanely Destroyed

Photo Credit: https://www.k9ofmine.com/how-to-break-up-dog-fight/

For the very first installment of “From the Bench,” a series of posts highlighting new and interesting decisions from various courts, we are starting with Mackley v. The State of Wyoming, 2021 WY 33, a decision of the Wyoming Supreme Court published on February 22, 2021.

Here are the facts of Mackley:

Gabriel and Danielle Mendez were walking their boxers, Rocky and Lola, when
Rocky escaped Mr. Mendez’s grasp and ran to Adam Mackley’s front door, where
Mr. Mackley’s son was returning from walking the Mackleys’ three dogs. As he lost
hold of Rocky’s leash, Mr. Mendez shouted for help from a group of kids playing
basketball nearby. Some of the kids gave chase, including high school sophomore, P.V.

Two of the Mackleys’ dogs began to fight with Rocky on the Mackleys’ porch.
P.V. reached the top of the Mackleys’ stairs, grabbed Rocky by his harness, and pulled
Rocky down the stairs and into the street, while all three dogs continued to fight. P.V.
heard Mr. Mackley’s wife yell “shoot the dog” and saw Mr. Mackley appear and then
disappear back into the house.

In the street, P.V. continued to try to stop the ongoing dog fight, and was holding
Rocky’s front end up by his harness with both hands, with Rocky’s hind end between his
legs. While P.V. and Rocky were in that position, Mr. Mackley came back out of the
house, into the street, and shot Rocky in the neck. P.V. did not realize Mr. Mackley had a
gun until he felt Rocky go limp in his arms.

Mackley, 2021 WY 33, ¶¶ 3-5. Opinion written by Justice Kate M. Fox.

The State charged Mr. Mackley with aggravated cruelty to animals, Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-3-203(c)(vii) & (n), a felony, and reckless endangering, Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-504(a), a misdemeanor.

A person commits aggravated cruelty to animals if, among other things, he “shoots, poisons, or otherwise intentionally acts to seriously injury or destroy any livestock or domesticated animal owned by another person while the animal is on property where the animal is authorized to be present.” See Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-3-203(c)(vii). Aggravated animal cruelty is punishable by up to two (2) years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

The case proceeded to a jury trial. Mr. Mackley argued that, by shooting Rocky one time killing the dog instantly, he “humanely destroyed” Rocky such that he cannot be guilty of cruelty to animals under Wyoming law.

Wyoming law states that its “animal cruelty” and “aggravated animal cruelty” statutes do not prohibit:

(i) A person from humanely destroying an animal, including livestock

Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-3-203(m)(i).

Mr. Mackley contended that, under this law, he cannot be found guilty of any kind of animal cruelty because a person “humanely destroys” an animal “where that animal isn’t shot multiple times or shot in a manner to cause it undue pain or anguish or any substantial, significant, lingering issue, pain or injury.” Mackley, 2021 WY 33, ¶ 8.

The trial court refused to instruct the jury on Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-3-203(m)(i) and denied Mr. Mackley’s motion for acquittal based on this argument. Ultimately, the jury convicted Mr. Mackley of aggravated cruelty and reckless endangerment.

Mr. Mackley appealed to the Wyoming Supreme Court arguing that Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-3-203(m)(i) should have barred him from being found guilty. The Wyoming Supreme Court disagreed with Mr. Mackley.

The Court said that Mr. Mackley’s argument would require the State to prove “inhumane killing” of the animal in each case of aggravated animal cruelty such that “any animal could be killed,
under any circumstances, as long as it is killed quickly.” Mackley, 2021 WY 33, ¶ 22. The Court rejected this argument because it would produce the absurd result of permitting people to kill animals with impunity so long as they did so quickly. See id.

The Court observed that “humanely” in Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-3-203(m)(i) “describes an act driven by compassion for animals who are suffering and distressed, not the swift execution of any livestock or domesticated animal owned by another person, for any reason.”

Mackley v. State of Wyoming, 2021 WY 33, ¶ 23

The Court wrote that “humane” means “marked by compassion, sympathy, or consideration for other human beings or animals.” Mackley, 2021 WY 33, ¶ 23 (citing Humane, Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (2002)). The Court observed that “humanely” in Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-3-203(m)(i) “describes an act driven by compassion for animals who are suffering and distressed, not the swift execution of any livestock or domesticated animal owned by another person, for any reason. [. . .] Rocky was not suffering or distressed and did not need to be euthanized.” See id. In short, the Court concluded, just because a person kills an animal “quickly and without excess pain” does not mean the person acted humanely. See id.

Accordingly, the Court rejected Mr. Mackley’s appellate arguments and affirmed his convictions.

NOTE: If you would like to learn the best methods to break up a dog fight, please check out these great resources:

If you are interested in getting a new dog or other pet, please consider adopting a pet in need of a home rather than buying.

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