By Natalie Johnson and Justyna Tomtas / The Chronicle
Jan Propp-Estimo put her head in her hands and sobbed Monday as Lewis County District Court Judge R.W. Buzzard declared that her family’s beloved dog Hank is dangerous as defined by county code and should be euthanized.
“I don’t agree with the judge,” she told The Chronicle. “That dog slept and played with my grandson for four months.”
“Hank” started life as “Tank.” He was accused in April 2016 of killing two goats and injuring a pony with his mother — another pit bull mix called Sadie. He was declared dangerous and eventually seized by Lewis County. He was set to be euthanized before county employees took pity on him, changed his name and adopted him out to Propp-Estimo and her family earlier this year.
According to documents obtained by The Chronicle, Lewis County Public Health and Social Services Director Danette York admitted to authorizing the name change and adoption.
York was called to the witness stand during Monday’s hearing. She refused to answer any questions, citing her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
After learning about the name change and adoption of Hank, county employees seized him again in May, and he has been at the Lewis County Animal Shelter ever since.
Before he signed Hank’s death warrant, Buzzard took a 20-minute recess after hearing testimony from witnesses and argument from attorneys to review changes made an hour earlier to the county’s code on dangerous animals.
Buzzard said some new evidence presented did not clearly absolve Hank from wrongdoing, and other new evidence, namely a revised statement from an eyewitness who first said she saw both dogs killing the goat and later revised her statement to exonerate Hank, was not believable.
“Of course the animal is not presently dangerous, because it’s confined in a cage at the animal shelter,” he said. “I would find the dog is dangerous.”
Buzzard gave Propp-Estimo and her attorney, Adam Karp of Animal Law Offices, 48 hours to file an appeal to save Hank’s life before he is euthanized
“We will seek review by Superior Court to stay the euthanasia, which I’m confident will be granted,” Karp told The Chronicle after Monday’s hearing.
The Board Lewis County of Commissioners approved an ordinance Monday allowing a judge to reconsider a dangerous dog distinction based on new evidence.
Glenn Carter, with the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office, said the current code was somewhat obsolete and archaic, adding that many owners who want to overturn a dangerous dog declaration lack the knowledge needed to file an appeal.
Before commissioners approved the changes to the ordinance, two individuals spoke in favor of the move.
Mary Ostrem, from Glenoma, supported the amendment, stating it provides a means of recourse. She has worked at rescue groups in several states, including Washington, and said the provision being considered was not unique to Lewis County.
“I obviously feel concerned about this particular case that the dog Hank and his family who found themselves through no fault of their own caught in an administrative situation that they will need your help and Judge Buzzard’s to extricate themselves from,” Ostrem said.
Former commissioner Ron Averill also supported the change that would allow an appeal of a dangerous dog declaration. The ordinance was approved with a 2-0 vote. Commissioner Gary Stamper was not present at the meeting.
The code is currently being worked on, and the amendment will remain until commissioners adopt more permanent language for the code.
Across the street, the Lewis County District Court hearing applying that ordinance was simultaneously taking place.
Buzzard said the court had agreed to begin the hearing assuming the changes to the dangerous dog ordinance would be passed as written.
If the court received word the commission did not pass the ordinance, the hearing would stop, Buzzard said.
Karp filed a petition in the case last week to appeal Hank’s distinction as a dangerous dog. He previously brought legal action in Lewis County on behalf of Jay, a cat killed in Centralia last year.
In opening arguments, he said York, who acts as a hearing examiner in the county’s dangerous dog cases, didn’t have enough evidence to declare that Hank, then named Tank, was a threat either to livestock or the community. He also argued that county staff apparently agreed that he was not a dangerous dog, since they didn’t tell Propp-Estimo about the dog’s history.
“I think it’s undisputed that his name was changed and there were steps made to not disclose that information,” Karp said.
He called several witnesses to the stand, including Hank’s most recent owner.
Propp-Estimo testified that she never saw Hank exhibit any aggressive tendencies. She emotionally recounted the moment when she first met the fawn-colored pit bull mix at the Lewis County Shelter.
“He was just wagging his tail and he had a stuffed toy in his mouth,” she said. “He was the only one who wasn’t barking.”
She told the court staff at the shelter told her he behaved like a “lap-dog.”
Steven Rohr, owner of the goat killed in the 2016 incident, told The Chronicle he now believes Hank is innocent, forgives the dogs’ owner, and said he doesn’t want the county to pursue the dangerous dog designation.
“I want to give him a second chance, so I’m calling him Hank,” he said, while testifying Monday.
Rohr introduced a portion of a video taken on a dashboard camera on a truck he owns. Rohr said he often leaves the camera running while he isn’t home.
The short footage appeared to show Hank running around with a goat. Hank and his mother, Sadie, had escaped from their yard at the same time his goat escaped from its enclosure. Rohr said the dog appeared to be running around playfully with the goat.
“Before I had seen this video, I was very, very prejudiced too,” he said. “I felt both dogs needed to be put down.”
Rohr and Karp said the video went on to show the other dog, Sadie, run out from behind his house and begin attacking the goat. However, the rest of the video was not admitted as evidence.
Now, Rohr said he believes Hank had nothing to do with attacking the animals, but was merely following the other dog around.
Karp reiterated that argument after the witnesses’ testimony. He also noted that the one eye-witness to the event first said both dogs attacked the livestock, but changed her story this year to blame the attack on the older dog, absolving Hank.
“He, individually, had no intent, no desire to go after any of these animals,” Karp said.
David Fine, of the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office, argued that the county did not have to prove Hank acted alone.
“There’s no requirement to be a dangerous animal (that) it must act single-handedly,” he said. “At the end of the day, the goat was dead.”
Hank’s original owner, Debra Parscal, said she always believed Hank was blameless.
“Sadie’s the one that did it,” she said. “Sadie’s the one who should have been put down.”
Sadie, however, is safely living with family out of state. Parscal was given the opportunity to keep Hank if she met certain criteria. She told The Chronicle she was able to do everything but provide extra insurance for the dog. She said she couldn’t find an insurance agency that would agree to sell her such a policy, even if she could afford it, and was forced to give up her own fight to keep Hank.
Until reading Chronicle coverage earlier this year, she believed her dog had already been euthanized.
“I just want him to stay alive,” she said.
Propp-Estimo told The Chronicle the fight is not yet over.
“I’m not giving up. That dog is too precious,” she said.