NEW HARMONY – The recent shooting deaths of two dogs in New Harmony have the community abuzz with debate over whether the incident and others like it are legally and morally justified.
At 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 24, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office received a complaint of an animal problem at 2679 South Old Highway 91 in New Harmony.
“Deputies responded to the incident,” said Det. Nate Abbott, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office. “(They) reported that two dogs were chasing livestock on private property and the property owner shot them.”
Brent Bassett, the property owner, confirmed that he had indeed shot the two dogs, a male German Shepherd named Ace and a female retriever mix named Sage. He surrendered their bodies to the Sheriff’s Office, completed a witness statement and provided deputies with the names and contact information of their owners, who were later informed of the incident, Abbott said. No citations were issued or arrests made.
The shooting left Brent Frankland and Sheryl Frankland, Ace’s owners, and Andrew Williamson, Sage’s owner, both of whom live only a few houses away from Bassett, shocked and upset. Since the incident, the Franklands have confronted Bassett to demand an explanation, posted an account of the shooting on various community websites and written to animal advocacy organizations across the county.
“I’m telling anyone who will listen and I’m not done yet,” Sheryl Frankland said. “We are outraged that a neighbor could be so heartless towards another neighbor. What he did hurt our family.”
“I loved my dog very much and I miss her very much,” Williamson said. “She didn’t deserve this.”
But the neighbors are angry for entirely different reasons. While the Franklands blame Bassett for a “cruel and unnecessary” act of violence, Williamson said the shooting is their fault.
“We had an agreement. They were to keep their dog tied up on even days of the week and I was to keep mine tied up on odd days, so that they didn’t band together, run off and cause trouble,” he said. “I stuck to my side of that agreement, but many times, they failed to keep their dog tied up. They didn’t, and both our dogs are dead because of it.”
“There was an agreement,” Sheryl Frankland said. “However, many times Mr. Williamson let his dog run loose when I did not welcome it on my property. I realize he is trying to place blame on me, but no one understands his loss better than I do.”
Williamson is also defending Bassett and said that he understands the reason behind his actions.
“If dogs harass horses and cause them to break out of their enclosure and run free, they can trample through yards, run into traffic and get lost or make a danger to people,” Williamson said. “He told me he was very sorry that he had to do it, but there’s no apology needed.”
“Mr. Bassett claims he shot the dogs because they were barking, but no one really knows if that is true because no one else was around,” Brent Frankland said. “It appears (the community) has just taken what Mr. Bassett told them and gone along with it.”
St. George News spoke to Bassett, but he declined to comment.
“The Franklands are so emotional and distraught from the loss of their dog that their rational judgment is clouded,” Williamson said. “If they are looking to blame someone for their dog’s loss and mine, all they need to do is look in the mirror.”
On March 4, the Sheriff’s Office responded to a harassment complaint on the Bassett property. Bassett and his wife alleged that they had been receiving confrontational Facebook and phone messages from the Franklands since the shooting, and that Brent Frankland had engaged them in a verbal argument on their property. When questioned, Brent Frankland stated that he had a right to confront Bassett for killing his dog, but agreed to not have any further contact with him. No arrests were made and no further police activity has been reported on the Bassett or Frankland properties since.
The following state and municipal statutes clarify the legalities surrounding the shooting:
- According to Title 18, Chapter 1, Section 3 of the Utah Code, amended during the 2007 Legislative General Session, a person can injure or kill a dog while the dog is attacking, chasing or otherwise bothering a domestic animal, service animal, hoofed protected wildlife or domestic fowl. More on 18-1-3 can be found here.
- According to Title 18, Chapter 1, Section 1, amended during the 2011 session, a person owning or keeping a dog is liable for any injury committed by the dog. More on 18-1-1 can be found here.
- According to Title 5, Chapter 3A, Section 3 of the Washington County Code, amended in 2004, it is against the law for any owner or caretaker of a domestic animal to permit that animal to trespass on another person’s property. More on 5-3A-3 can be found here.
- Title 76, Chapter 10, Section 508 of the Utah Criminal Code states that a person cannot fire a weapon within 600 feet of a house or any structure housing a domestic animal. However, the section does not apply to a person who fires a weapon in lawful defense of self or others. More on 76-10-508 can be found here.
No criminal charges have been or will be brought against Bassett, as the shooting was justified under state statute 18-1-3, Abbott said. And though Williamson, Brent Frankland and Sheryl Frankland could be found liable for allowing their dogs to trespass on private property, the Sheriff’s Office declined to cite them.
This matter may reach the civil court in the near future, however. Williamson said he will pursue legal action against Brent Frankland and Sheryl Frankland “if they keep dragging good people’s names through the mud.”
“I am considering suing Mr. Bassett,” Sheryl Frankland said. “At this point, I’m speaking to attorneys.”
Moral and legal debate
Though current laws uphold the shooting as a justified action, the Franklands are urging the community to be aware of, and support, a call to change them.
“Utah has some of the worst animal cruelty laws in the country,” Sheryl Frankland said. “I don’t think most people realize this and I hope that informing them will inspire others to get involved and help push to change laws and ordinances to protect animals from unnecessary violence, like what Mr. Bassett did to our Ace. Recently, I have received an overwhelming amount of support from other New Harmony pet owners, as well as people from all over Utah.”
“My family and I feel that this was a senseless act of violence in a peaceful neighborhood and there are always better solutions to solve a problem than to just wield a weapon, especially in such close proximity to other residences,” Brent Frankland said. “People need to have more respect for life itself. The laws that allow shooting a dog just because it is, according to the person wielding the weapon having the power of their own personal statement, annoying or threatening livestock, appear to be in conflict with other safety laws. Surely, something needs to be changed.”
“I agree with the law,” Williamson said. “I would have done the same thing.”
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