Monday, December 19, 2011

Hola the Llama

The case of Hola the llama in Washington State vs. Smith is an interesting one. It is a case in which an animal owner was convicted of 1st degree animal cruelty for attempting to treat an llama's illness at home instead of hiring a veterinarian to treat him.

Mr. Smith was convicted in spite of the fact that the llama did not improve even in animal control hands while receiving veterinary care, and the vet was unable to do anything to help him or ascertain the cause of his illness.

The story, in brief, is this: Hola the llama came to Mr. Smith in 2003 through a rescue, in very poor condition. Mr. Smith successfully nursed him back to health and the llama recovered very well.

Several years later, in 2007, the llama began to lose weight and appear ill. Mr. Smith was concerned and took steps to address the issue.

Mr. Smith moved Hola to where he could receive more personalized care, and was actively treating Hola's issues by giving him extra food, special weight-gain supplements, treating for parasites, etc. to help him gain weight. Feed store employees testified that he asked for advice in treating the llama and was quite concerned about him.

The llama at times seemed to be improving with treatment, and Mr. Smith apparently thought that since he had been able to nurse him back to health this way in the past, he would be able to do it again. Hola had times when he seemed to be improving, but then would get worse again.

When animal control was called by a neighbor, Hola was in a "downer" position. Animal Control confiscated both Hola and the other llama on the property, even though the other llama was perfectly healthy. By the time the veterinarian examined him after he was confiscated, Hola was up on his feet with normal responsiveness and vital signs.

Hola was confiscated on December 7th, 2007, and spent 6 and 1/2 weeks in animal control custody and under veterinary treatment, which still was unable to find a clear cause for the weight loss or illness and did essentially the same things Mr. Smith had been doing to treat him.

Hola had ups and downs, just as he had in Mr. Smith's care. He improved, became "downer" again in late December 2007, and them seemed to improve again. When he became "downer" yet again on January 20th, 2008, they finally decided to euthanize him.

Even though the llama did not improve with veterinary care and the
veterinarian was unable to treat the illness or find a cause of the illness, the veterinarian used essentially the same approach to treat the llama as what Mr. Smith had already been doing with the same results, and the llama did not die while in the owner's custody, Mr. Smith was still convicted of 1st degree animal cruelty in the death of Hola the llama.

Mr. Smith appealed on the basis of ineffective counsel. The court found that 2nd degree animal cruelty would have been a more appropriate conviction and reversed and remanded the case, based on a finding of ineffective counsel because the jury was not instructed about the possibility of finding Mr. Smith guilty of 2nd degree cruelty.

As summarized in the court's decision,
RCW 16.52.205(2) provides:

"A person is guilty of animal cruelty in the first degree when, except as authorized by law, he or she, with criminal negligence, starves, dehydrates, or suffocates an animal and as a result causes: (a) Substantial and unjustifiable physical pain that extends for a period sufficient to cause considerable suffering; or (b) death."

RCW 16.52.207(2) provides in pertinent part:

"(2) An owner of an animal is guilty of animal cruelty in the second degree if, under circumstances not amounting to first degree animal cruelty, the owner knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence:
(a) Fails to provide the animal with necessary shelter, rest, sanitation, space, or medical attention and the animal suffers unnecessary or unjustifiable physical pain as a result of the failure. "

Here are the documents I was able to find in the case:

The court's decision remanding and reversing the case: PDF format or plain text on a webpage.

Appellant Brief (Smith's side of the story, giving his appeal): PDF format

Respondent's Brief (Washington State's statement giving the reasons why they feel Mr. Smith should not win the appeal): PDF format.

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