The story of Luke and Jager, two rescue dogs who were killed after they got loose and wandered onto a farmer’s property, has turned into a twisted tale and raised serious questions about which side has rights when it comes to killing someone’s pet to protect livestock.
The pair escaped while their owners were away and eventually made their way onto the property of Randy and Jon Christ. The pair originally told authorities that Jon had beaten the dogs to death with a shovel, burned their bodies and buried them at the Byron sand mine where Jon worked after the dogs allegedly attacked and killed chickens on the property. Jon also later led investigators to an ash pile at the quarry that supposedly contained their remains.
Following the original version of the story, the Contra Costa Animal Services investigated and said that possible charges for the killing would depend on “whether it was done cruelly or not,” as though there’s some sort of ethical way to beat not one, but two dogs to death. Unfortunately for the dogs, under California law people are allowed to defend their livestock, even if it means resorting to killing another animal.
However, it turns out that’s not even what really happened. It was later discovered that Randy Christ actually shot the dogs. His son lied about it to protect his father from any charges that could be brought for discharging a gun within Brentwood city limits.
The dogs’ remains were also not burned or buried. An employee at the site where they were supposedly discarded later discovered their bodies intact in a ditch, along with the bodies of the birds. Jon was at least subsequently fired from his job at the quarry.
Although the story and the way Luke and Jager were killed has changed, the potential for charges has not. If the dogs suffered, it could be a case of felony animal cruelty. Unfortunately, there’s still technically no evidence that they did.
The dogs owners, Ellen Barkley and Rocky Osborn, are understandably both heartbroken and outraged. They’re also being targeted for being irresponsible dog parents, but what happened to them could happen to anyone. At the time, the dogs were being watched by Barkley’s daughters. It was actually a third dog, who regularly escaped, who started the series of unfortunate events that led to Luke and Jager’s deaths after it got out, got into their neighbor’s yard and did damage by digging and loosening boards in the fence, creating the space that the dogs left through.
Upon returning, Barkley and friends began searching for Luke and Jager and followed tips that led them to the Christ’s property, where police were called to respond to a report of trespassers. While en route, officers got word that someone had reported dogs had been shot, according to San Jose Mercury News.
Randy Christ later said he feels no remorse for what happened. To add insult to injury, even though the dogs were wearing tags with contact information, the Christs didn’t even have the decency to call the owners to let the know what happened or to let them come get their bodies.
Meanwhile, Barkley and Osborne have gone through the injustice of having the remains of their dogs returned twice. Although no one is sure what was even in the first packages, their real remains have been taken to a vet for examination.
They question whether anything the Christ’s have said is true and have since set up a Facebook page to support getting justice for Luke and Jager. They are also pursuing legal avenues to have the law changed so other families don’t have to go through a situation like this. They especially want to add a requirement that law enforcement be called in this type of situation to help people with lost dogs and clarify whether the current law actually justifies killing a dog to protect poultry. They have also met with Senator Mark DeSaulnier, who said he would investigate the issue personally.
While technicalities vary by state, farmers who own livestock are typically within their rights to kill any dog who is either preparing to attack, caught in the act or fleeing afterwards if it happens on their property, because livestock are considered commercially valuable. Dog owners in these situations aren’t legally entitled to anything, even if the livestock owners don’t rely on their animals for their livelihood.
Interestingly, in some places the laws are completely different when it comes to killing a dog who is attacking another dog or domestic animal, which could result in the offender being liable for damages or facing cruelty charges. The differences raise the question of whether or not the scales of justice unfairly tipped in favor of livestock owners in these situations.
In this case, Animal Services will be bringing the facts that have been gathered to the Contra Costa District Attorney’s office to determine whether charges should be filed. Rick Golphin, deputy director of Animal Services, said charges may also be filed for interfering with an investigation and destroying evidence.
So far people have come out in support of both sides. Some still believe that Randy was perfectly within his rights to kill the dogs, while others are calling for him to be charged with animal cruelty. Unfortunately, no one will ever really know what happened that day; The dogs can’t tell anyone, and the Christ family clearly doesn’t have a problem lying.
For updates on how this plays out, visit Justice for Luke and Jager.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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