The case against an 84-year-old Glendale man, charged with trespassing after taking his neighbor’s dog for a walk, was dismissed Tuesday when no one showed up to prosecute him.
Thomas Ritchey’s trial was scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. in Douglas County Circuit Court. At 8:42 a.m. Judge Julie Zuver dismissed the charge.
Deputy District Attorney Shannon Sullivan said Tuesday afternoon that because the charge had been downgraded from a misdemeanor to a violation and Ritchey had no attorney, it was up to the sheriff’s deputy who cited Ritchey to prosecute the case. Sullivan said she did not know why Deputy Russell Wools was not in court Tuesday.
Douglas County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Dwes Hutson had no explanation for Wools’ absence either, though he said the office was looking into it.
Ritchey said he was thrilled by the outcome.
“Justice prevailed in Roseburg,” he said. “I’m very happy. I did a lot of preparation for nothing, but I’d rather have it this way.”
Wools originally cited Ritchey for felony theft and misdemeanor trespassing. He was cited Aug. 8 after going into his neighbor’s yard and taking her German shepherd, Kenai, for a walk.
Ritchey said he initially approached the dog to check on its welfare because the day was very hot and it was lying very still. When he approached, the dog moved and he said he decided it would be good for the dog to have a walk.
The theft charge was dropped and the trespassing charge reduced to a violation after a September hearing.
The dog’s owner, Kayrene Kimber, 24, said Tuesday she wasn’t upset the case was dismissed. She said she hadn’t really wanted Ritchey to be prosecuted.
She said she had contacted the district attorney’s office prior to Tuesday’s hearing asking that the charges be dropped because of Ritchey’s age but received no response. She said she called the sheriff’s office Aug. 8 as a last resort when a neighbor called her at work to say Ritchey had taken her dog.
Ritchey and Kimber live next door to each other in a four-unit housing complex in Glendale. Ritchey said he repeatedly expressed concern about Kenai being chained in Kimber’s yard and offered to help care for the dog while she was at work in Grants Pass.
Kimber said she has faced eight months of harassment from Ritchey over her dog, who she said is her “baby” and well cared for. She said Ritchey was intrusive, repeatedly leaving notes on her door after she told him she did not want his help.
Kimber said she did not think it was reasonable to allow Ritchey to help care for Kenai because the dog is young and 80 pounds. She said she feared she might be sued if the dog injured her elderly neighbor.
“If she had knocked him over or pulled him, she could have hurt him,” Kimber said.
Ritchey and Kimber arrived at the courthouse early Tuesday, along with supporters.
Ritchey’s supporters included neighbors and animal-rights advocates from Glendale and Grants Pass. They said they were pleased by the end result, though one neighbor said she thought it was too bad the elderly man had faced charges in the first place.
“This is one of the most beautiful, caring people you would ever meet. It makes me sad it had to come to this,” said neighbor Wilma Lane, who lives in a home next to Kimber’s.
Accompanying Kimber was a former roommate, Sarah Vanlohuizen, who lived with Kimber and Kenai for about four months before Kimber moved to her current residence and took the dog with her.
“She’s just an emotional wreck,” said Vanlohuizen, 21. Vanlohuizen said the dog’s previous owners had planned to abandon the dog, but Kimber fell in love with her and decided to keep her. Vanlohuizen said the dog is well cared for, never abused or neglected.
Animal activists with Ritchey said they weren’t taking sides about the quality of Kenai’s care, but expressed concern about what they said was the criminalization of being kind to an animal.
Angie Berger, a board member of the Rogue Valley Humane Society in Grants Pass, said Oregon needs a law protecting those who step in to help someone else’s pet.
“They need a good Samaritan law for animals. They have them on the East Coast. They should have them here in Oregon. Then something like this wouldn’t have happened,” Berger said.
Katherine Oxendine, president of the Toby Fund of Wolf Creek, said she hoped the case’s dismissal will encourage more cooperation between neighbors.
“I’m hoping that it’s been resolved. I hope that neighbors in the small town of Glendale will be able to communicate more effectively in the future,” she said. “I hope Thomas and his neighbor Kayrene will be able to connect effectively for the sake of the dog.”
She said it was too bad the case made it as far as it did.
“It’s very unfortunate Thomas experienced such stress over the last several weeks, at times believing he was going to jail, because he, in his view, helped to care for a dog he thought was in distress,” Oxendine said.
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.