A Santa Rosa man who abandoned an injured dog in a garbage pile last year was sentenced Monday morning to four months in the Sonoma County Jail for felony animal cruelty.
Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Julie Conger, who earlier indicated she might reduce the charge to a misdemeanor, also sentenced Ronald McKnight, 38, to three years probation and prohibited him from owning any animal.
The courtroom — packed with animal lovers ‚ erupted in a loud cheer when the judge said:
“The charge must remain a felony.”
McKnight’s Labrador puppy “Daphne” injured a leg in August 2014, and a dog walker took her to an animal hospital and paid $3,000 for surgery, according to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office.
The dog then disappeared from McKnight’s home, and McKnight said he had taken it to a shelter. A week later the whimpering, dehydrated and malnourished puppy was found on Nuns Canyon Road in Glen Ellen and it was taken to the Sonoma County Animal Shelter.
Two fractures were found in the dog’s extremely atrophied left hind leg which had to be amputated.
McKnight was identified as the dog’s owner after a Sonoma County veterinarian presented Daphne’s case to a class he was teaching at Santa Rosa Junior College. Two students recognized the pup’s initial injury and its surgically pinned leg, the District Attorney’s Office said.
McKnight admitted abandoning the dog, but he said he left it off of Interstate Highway 80 near Travis Air Force Base, prosecutors said. He was held to answer to the felony animal cruelty charge after a preliminary hearing in April.
McKnight’s attorney Gene Michael Gordon said McKnight, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, has volunteered at three animal shelters since the incident.
Gordon told the court a felony conviction will jeopardize McKnight’s 13-year career with the Coast Guard, his client is remorseful for his actions and does not have a prior criminal record.
McKnight did the best he could with a difficult situation, Gordon said.
Sonoma County Assistant District Attorney William Brockley said McKnight told numerous lies about his behavior. He said McKnight is “clothing himself in the American flag,” and “cloaking himself as a public servant.”
Brockley said McKnight earned $74,000 a year in the Coast Guard and could have afforded the care Daphne needed:
“This was felonious and inhumane conduct. … He knew the dog would die a painful death.”
Judge Conger said McKnight should have known abandoning an injured animal is a crime in any state. She said McKnight waited two weeks before he sought care through his neighbor for the dog’s injured leg, and later lied when he said he took Daphne to an animal shelter.
“This was egregious behavior.”
The judge ordered McKnight to surrender his weapon and ammunition.
McKnight can apply to serve his 4-month term on work release, and must report to the jail on Jan. 29.
Brockley asked for an 8-month jail sentence, but he said:
“The big fight was getting the felony conviction.”
After the sentencing, Dan Famini, a veterinarian with Sonoma County Animal Shelter, said Daphne has been placed in a new home:
“We see animal cases all the time, but it’s rare we have the evidence to support the facts. … The District Attorney’s Office has been very helpful. This is the third case I’ve seen (in court) this year.”