Wolfy the Dog Cruelty Trial: One Man Pleads Guilty, Another Awaits Jury’s Decision

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

After three full days of testimony and arguments, a Thurston County jury is deliberating whether the owner of a Bucoda dog known as Wolfy is guilty of mistreating the animal, which was found dead in 2014 with maggot-infested wounds, hair loss, broken teeth and a stomach full of corn kernels and rocks.

The case finally went to trial this week after years of delays and rescheduled proceedings. A photo of the dog posted to social media in 2014 sparked outrage over his condition, with thousands of people signing a petition calling for charges.

The dog was allegedly killed after the attention it brought on social media.

 Saga of Bucoda Dog Sparks Petition for Investigation

“What do dogs and cats want to eat? They want to eat dog food,” Deputy Prosecutor Olivia Zhou said during her closing statement Wednesday afternoon. “Dogs and cats, in this case Wolfy, they’re not going to go eat corn kernels and they’re not going to eat rocks unless they’re desperate.”

Wolfy’s owner, Robert Leatherman, was charged with first-degree animal cruelty in May 2015. Jeffrey Gavin, accused of shooting the dog and causing its death, was charged with second-degree animal cruelty.

 Trial of Allegedly Abused Dog in Bucoda Postponed for 14th Time

Leatherman’s defense attorney, Jim Shackleton, said evidence showed “obvious camaraderie and affection” between Wolfy and his owner. He urged the jury to acquit his client, saying the prosecution hadn’t proved Leatherman acted with “criminal negligence.”

“The state has certainly not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that that’s true,” he said. “I submit that the state hasn’t come close.”

Leatherman’s trial began Monday morning in Thurston County Superior Court before Judge Carol Murphy.

Gavin was scheduled to go to trial as Leatherman’s co-defendant, but entered a guilty plea before the trial began early Monday. He pleaded guilty to second-degree animal cruelty, a gross misdemeanor.

His sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.

Maggots, Rocks in Stomach and Extreme Abuse: Charges Sought in Death of Bucoda Dog

The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office began investigating the case in October 2014 after hearing a report that a person shot a dog in the Bucoda area, Thurston County Deputy Jay Swanson testified Tuesday under questioning by Zhou.

Swanson said he talked with Wolfy’s owner, Leatherman, who initially reported the dog was sick and suffering and said he euthanized the dog the night before.

“He told me friends had encouraged him to have the dog put down but he didn’t have the heart to do it,” Swanson testified.L

He also told the court that Leatherman asked it if was illegal for a person to shoot their own dog. Swanson said Leatherman reported a friend shot the dog, but initially gave him a false name for that person.

Investigators later learned it was Gavin who shot Wolfy.

Swanson contacted Thurston County’s Joint Animal Services and found the dog in a hole, wrapped in a sleeping bag, in a logging clearcut off Tono Road.

A necropsy performed by a veterinarian determined Wolfy died of a single gunshot wound to the head with a .22 caliber round. The veterinarian determined the dog did not die instantly and likely suffered.

The veterinarian also found indications of “long-standing neglect,” including maggot-infested skin lesions, hair loss and rocks in its stomach, indicating it was starving.

Leatherman and Gavin were charged in the dog’s death and abuse in life in spring 2015.

Leatherman was later charged with bail jumping after reportedly missing a pre-trial hearing.

The prosecution rested its case Tuesday afternoon. Shackleton rested Wednesday morning. Attorneys presented their closing arguments Wednesday after the noon recess and concluded at about 3:30 p.m.

Judge Murphy excused the jury at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday with instructions to continue deliberations Thursday morning.