http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/n...al/5106559.htmCraig S. Miller of Lansdale denied kicking his guide dog. He said he accidentally knelt on it.
A blind Lansdale man who testified that he accidentally knelt on top of his guide dog after a night of drinking, killing the black Labrador retriever, was convicted yesterday of animal cruelty charges.
Craig S. Miller, 42, testifying in a Montgomery County courtroom filled with animal-rights activists, denied that he fatally kicked Inky last Feb. 8.
"I loved him," Miller said of the animal that guided him for four years.
The case outraged animal-lovers, prompting an outpouring of response from around the nation, according to Montgomery County prosecutors.
"We were just inundated with telephone calls, letters and e-mails," said Risa Ferman, first assistant district attorney. "People would stop us constantly and tell us how outraged they were."
The public outcry prompted Pennsylvania lawmakers to enact legislation last year making the harming of a guide animal a third-degree felony with a maximum jail term of seven years.
Judge Paul W. Tressler, who heard the case without a jury, found Miller guilty of cruelty to animals but acquitted him of disorderly conduct charges. Miller faces a maximum fine of $10,000 and up to two years in prison when he is sentenced May 5.
Prosecutors said the guide dog died when Miller, once a candidate for mayor of Lansdale, kicked the animal so severely that it bled to death. Veterinarian Jenny Witthoff, who autopsied Inky, found it died from multiple blunt-force trauma and a ruptured spleen.
Miller told a different story, saying that he walked home from a bar that night and found Inky collapsed inside his garage.
"I dropped down to my knees not knowing he collapsed underneath me," Miller said. "I believe my knees may have bounced off of him."
The defendant said in court that he had had a month of training with the dog, given him by the Leader School for the Blind.
Court records show that Miller told police that he kicked Inky because he was angry and frustrated from working with the guide dog. Miller denied that in court.
"Did you ever kick with your sneakers?" asked Nino Tinari, Miller's lawyer.
"No," Miller replied.
Witthoff testified that the dog's head injury was not consistent with someone kneeling on it.
Among those in the courtroom was Joe Sikora, who uses a dog trained by the Leader Dogs organization. He said he hoped the Miller case would send the message that seeing-eye dogs should be taken from owners who abuse them.
There have been other animal cruelty cases in Montgomery County since Inky's death, Ferman said, but none has generated as much attention.
"Maybe because it was a guide dog," she said. "Because it was trained to protect its owner."
Tinari said his client was disappointed with the verdict. "It was an accident," Tinari said.