Courts & Crime

Alaska man gets 300 days in jail for bashing out dog's teeth

ANCHORAGE — The man who used a rifle to knock out his dog's teeth said in court Tuesday he never meant for things to turn out as they did and was sorry for what happened.

A crowd of a couple dozen animal lovers packed the small courtroom in the Anchorage jail for Robert McGowan's sentencing. Most clutched little pictures of Harley, a Rottweiler mix, taken soon after he was injured, his face cut and bloody.

"The community of Anchorage is watching what happens today," assistant District Attorney Joan Wilson told the judge.

She argued for the maximum sentence on the misdemeanor animal cruelty charge: a year in jail, a $10,000 fine, a 10-year ban on owning an animal. Wilson, who choked up during the hour-plus hearing, said beforehand she's a dog lover too -- she owns four and rescues others.

In the courtroom, McGowan, 50, shielded his face with a file folder held up with shackled hands. He has suffered from mental illness since he was a teen, defense lawyer Keri Brady said, and he was having trouble with his medication in the days leading up to the Feb. 11 attack on his dog. She said 30 days in jail would be a reasonable sentence.

"I am very sorry for what has happened here. I apologize to the community. I apologize to the state of Alaska, all the people therein," McGowan told District Judge Richard Postma. He claimed Harley bit him and his girlfriend repeatedly and that Anchorage Animal Care and Control should have a better system to screen dogs for adoption.

"He's been a nuisance ever since I had him," McGowan said.

But officials said that Harley cleared behavior tests before being adopted by McGowan and that he has not been aggressive in his new home.

The debate over McGowan's crime and punishment stretched into a discourse on how society views dogs, who should get to adopt them, and the proper penalty for, as Wilson put it, "horrific treatment of an animal." Are dogs property -- or something more?

"First, let me dispel any argument that this is just a dog," Wilson told the judge. "It's just a dog, just as it's just a sunrise, just as it's just a promise, just as it's just a friend."

Defense lawyer Brady urged Postma not to decide the case on emotion. She suggested animal control shared the blame for allowing McGowan, a man with an extensive criminal record, to adopt any animal.

Read the full story at