- The Washington Times - Monday, July 30, 2001

An Annapolis lawyer whose client was convicted of cruelty to the family dog, Max, plans to convince a Maryland appeals court that the trial judge misunderstood John Zeits Jr.'s intention when he slit Max's throat and smashed the dog's head. He wasn't trying to maim the dog or cause it pain — he thought he was killing it.
Sound like a strange basis of appeal? Not to lawyer Emory Tamplin. He believes it is a winning argument under old Maryland law, which does not forbid owners from killing their animals, but does forbid them from acts of cruelty.
Anne Arundel County District Judge David S. Bruce sentenced Odenton resident John Zeits Jr., 23, to 90 days in jail on charges he slit his dog's throat, broke its neck and repeatedly stabbed it in the head with a box knife after the adopted stray bit his 16-month-old daughter — breaking the skin on her cheek — when she tried to hug the dog.
"The judge's decision was based on suburban standards, not rural standards. My client saw blood on his child's face when he got home," Mr. Tamplin said.
Before taking his daughter to the hospital, Mr. Zeits drove what he thought was Max's corpse to a nearby construction site and slipped it into an open drain pipe. When he came back later to bury the remains, the dog was gone.
"His intention was to kill the dog, not maim it or cause it pain," said Mr. Tamplin, who filed his appeal Friday.
But Max didn't die. He crawled out of the pipe, and some neighbors noticed his limp and bloody body. They wrapped towels around his neck before rushing him to a nearby veterinary hospital.
"My client did what he thought was appropriate to a dog that bites children," Mr. Tamplin said. "Our position is that under Maryland law you're allowed to do that dogs are property."
"I can go out and buy a horse today, take it home and put it down — that's my right. But you can pull the wings off a fly and go to jail for it," Mr. Tamplin said.
Not everyone shares Mr. Tamplin's view of the law.
Lou Sullivan Carter, vice president of the board of directors for Anne Arundel County's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said she thinks Mr. Zeits "got a light sentence."
"He should get prosecuted to the full extent of the law," Mrs. Carter said. "They've got to start sending a message that you can't get away with this."
Mr. Zeits adopted the dog not long after the skinny spaniel-setter jumped in his truck parked outside a 7-Eleven last summer, according to Mr. Tamplin. Despite protests from his wife, Mr. Zeits kept the stray at home and nursed it back to health as the family pet.
Shortly after midnight Oct. 2, when Max drew blood from the face of the Zeits' baby daughter, Mr. Zeits became enraged.
In court last week, Mr. Zeits testified that he sped home from work and stabbed and slashed Max on the third-floor balcony of the family's condominium.
Mr. Tamplin said Mr. Zeits cried as his described the incident in court.
Along with the 90 days jail time served on work release, Judge Bruce ordered Mr. Zeits to complete an anger-management program and pay more than $1,700 in veterinary bills for the surgery that saved the dog.
Judge Bruce declined to discuss the case with The Washington Times.
Mr. Zeits also declined to comment.
"My client could have easily said, 'Some stray dog bit [my daughter] and I don't know where it is,'" Mr. Tamplin said. "The court sort of grudgingly acknowledged that a person has the right to kill an animal. As any farmer knows, it happens every day to pigs, sheep, goats, chickens they usually just wring their necks. People are not punished for doing these things."
Tahira Shane Thomas, administrator of Anne Arundel County animal control, which now has custody of Max, said, "This is one of the most horrible acts our agency has experienced — Max is not a farm animal and Mr. Zeits is not a farmer."
"This is a domestic animal, regarded in society as a pet, an animal not used for farming purposes such as slaughter and food products," Miss Thomas said. "Dogs and cats are companion animals. For that reason, there are animal cruelty laws that protect them from unnecessary pain and attempts of mutilation.
"Even if an animal is being killed in a commercial setting, such as slaughter animals, they, too, are given protection so they are killed in a humane fashion," she said.
Mr. Tamplin said Mr. Zeits showed compassion when he took Max into his home because the dog might have died had Mr. Zeits not rescued him.
"You can't blame the dog for what it did. It's called fear biting — he was startled by the baby," Mrs. Carter said. "What kind of an example is that of a way to settle something? If something causes a problem, you should kill it? We domesticated the dog, now it's our responsibility to take care of it."

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