Dog ditcher pleads no contest to dumping puppy

A Santa Rosa man who abandoned his injured dog in a ravine pleaded no contest Thursday to a felony charge of animal abuse, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said.

But the Sonoma County Superior Court Judge who accepted the plea said she might reduce the charge to a misdemeanor at sentencing, Ravitch said.

Ronald McKnight, 37, told his dog walker in late August that his Labrador puppy “Daphne” injured a leg when it fell down the stairs.

The dog walker then took the dog to an animal hospital and paid $3,000 for surgery to repair the puppy’s broken leg because McKnight said he couldn’t afford it, Ravitch said.

The dog then disappeared from McKnight’s home and McKnight said he took it to a shelter, Ravitch said.

Sonoma County Animal Services employees went to Nuns Canyon Road in Glen Ellen after a worker heard a dog whimpering in a pile of garbage, and the puppy was taken to the county’s animal shelter, Ravitch said.

Daphne was dehydrated and malnourished and its splint and bandages caused extreme atrophy to her hind leg, Ravitch said. X-rays revealed two additional fractures in the same leg, which had to be amputated, Ravitch said.

McKnight was identified as the dog’s owner after a county veterinarian presented Daphne’s case to a class he was teaching at Santa Rosa Junior College, Ravitch said. Two of the students in the class recognized Daphne’s initial injury and surgically pinned leg, Ravitch said.

When contacted by Sonoma County Animal Control, McKnight admitted abandoning the puppy but he said he left her somewhere off Interstate Highway 80 near Travis Air Force Base, Ravitch said.

McKnight was charged with felony animal abuse. After a preliminary hearing in April, Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Peter Ottenweller denied McKnight’s motion to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor because he said McKnight’s actions amounted to torture, Ravitch said.

In court Thursday where McKnight pleaded no contest to the felony charge, Judge Julie Conger indicated she might reduce the offense to a misdemeanor if McKnight demonstrates his remorse and completes 300 hours of community service, most of it at animal shelters, Ravitch said.

Conger set sentencing for Dec. 7.

Ravitch said via news release Thursday afternoon:

“The delay in sentencing and consideration of a reduced charge are not supported by the gravity of the offense. … The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office takes issues of animal abuse very seriously. When someone takes care and control of an animal, it is their obligation to reasonably care for that animal. This defendant fell far short of that standard.”