Fireman Kills Dog, Family Starts Legal Firestorm

March 29, 2009 | By Amy Lieberman | 276 comments
Tags: crime & law, dogs

Karley with a stuffed rabbit, in a photo taken two weeks before the 6-month-old dog's death. (ZT Pet News Photo Courtesy of Jeff and Shelley Toole)

Eds. note: This report contains details which may be too graphic for some readers.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- One puppy's untimely death might prompt California courts to reconsider how they perceive pets as property.

The change won't bring Karley, a German Shepherd-mix, back to life, but it will ensure that her death was not in vain, her owners Jeff and Shelley Toole, of Riverside, Calif., say.

"Our neighbor killed a living, breathing being," Shelley Toole said. "She had feelings, she felt pain. She was not a couch, a car or any other piece of property. We're trying to find out what we can do, now, to make a difference, to change that."

Six-month-old Karley, a rescue dog, died in November 2008, allegedly at the hands of her family's neighbor, Glynn Johnson, 54, a recently retired Los Angeles County assistant fire chief.

The Tooles' 17-year-old daughter, Heather, let Karley out into the family's fenced-in backyard on Nov. 3. The dog allegedly soon after escaped from the yard and was found by neighbor Travis Skaggs. Skaggs went to return Karley to her property, but was intercepted by Johnson, who said he would take the dog back himself.

According to Skaggs' affidavit, he then witnessed Johnson strike the 42-pound puppy "with his closed fist, 10 to 15 times."

Skaggs chased after Johnson, but he was "pushed away" by the fire chief.

The level of abuse worsened from that point, Jeff Toole says.

"Glynn had Karley by the jaws and was prying her mouth apart, breaking her jaws," Toole said. "He started hitting her in the head with a river rock ... about three times."

Skaggs told police the defendant released Karley after her body went limp; the dog then stumbled to a nearby ravine and collapsed. Shortly after, Heather Toole and her 18-year-old brother, Brandon, found Karley in critical condition and rushed her to a veterinarian.

Karley suffered a fractured skull, brain swelling, crushed nasal passage, broken jaws and an injured eye; her family decided to euthanize her after the vet offered little hope for a full recovery.

"The trauma vet said that there was no way, that even with a minimum of 25 surgeries, the dog would never be the same," Jeff Toole said. "We chose to not let the dog suffer anymore."

Karley's unprecedented death, though, was just the beginning of her ongoing saga.

Johnson has since pleaded innocent to killing the dog, saying he acted in self defense. During a news conference in January, he told NBC that he would "never harm a dog that posed no danger to me."

He also said that while he was carrying Karley, she bit his right thumb and latched on in a "vise-like grip," prompting him to defend himself.

Though police responded to the crime scene shortly after the November incident, Johnson was not charged with aggravated animal cruelty until Dec. 16, 2008.

Leading up to that arrest, the Toole family -- and their many supporters -- spent seven weeks campaigning outside of the L.A. District Attorney's office, demanding Johnson be held accountable for his actions.

The police's lack of immediate response was especially upsetting to Brandon Toole, who wrote detailed e-mails to various media outlets about Karley's attack a day after her death.

Shortly after he penned the notes, Brandon was overwhelmed with interview requests, his mother says. In addition to ongoing publicity, Karley also had three candlelight vigils hosted in her name. Nearly 400 people turned out two weeks ago to the latest memorial in Huntington Beach, Calif.

"We were extremely surprised, and are still amazed, at how many people this has touched," Shelley Toole said. "This is still going nationwide and even international -- we get e-mails every day from people who have just heard the story.

"The support has actually really kept us going."

Karley even elicited support from British singer Maria Daines, who recently recorded a song in honor of the pooch.

"Karley in the sunshine/Karley we call your name/ Karley for the good times/ There's gonna come a brighter day/ The one who hurt you gotta pay/ Justice gotta be the word we pray," Daines wrote in "Karley's Song."

In January, the single rose to the top of Independent Artist Community, or IAC, music charts.

Though community involvement and help from animal welfare organizations has helped ease the family's pain, their battle against cruelty -- and Johnson -- is not nearly complete, they say.

Jeff Toole said he would like see that "Glynn Johnson gets convicted of animal cruelty and faces a felony conviction."

"I'd like to see that he does jail time," Toole continued. "That this law gets passed. I'd love to say that I'd like to see Karley get brought back home, but that is never going to happen."

Though the case is now in the courts' hands, Jeff Toole says that he is still able to effectively direct his energy elsewhere, focusing on a new bill the Animal Legal Defense Fund is helping to draft.

"Karley's Law" could alter the way in which animals are considered in court; now, in almost all states, they are regarded as a piece of property, worth only what their owners initially paid for them.

Realizing that Karley's significance to the Toole family was a moot point in court "hurt," Jeff Toole said.

"To be told that your dog is just like your kitchen table doesn't make sense. It's crazy. I couldn't understand that," he said.

"Karley was a family member. I never thought I would lose a family member, but I did. It's hard to explain what that means to people what you go through. I would never wish this experience on anybody."

The ALDF's legislative director, Stephan Otto, says a preliminary draft of the bill will be completed in a few weeks. While the bill won't reverse an animal's legal status as a property item, it will allow for more leeway in court cases involving pets.

"This is one of the areas where the legal system has not caught up to our societal values and we are working to change that ... to give people their day in court," Otto said.

"Instead of being able to get the replacement market value of a dog, we are trying to get additional compensation for the full loss of the pet. Certainly, those of us who have animals know that our animals are not something that can go and be replaced that easily. It's an emotional bond, a relationship we share."

The Toole family's connection to Karley has not wavered, they say. Their pain is also augmented by Johnson's constant lingering presence -- since he was released on a $10,000 bail, he has been living at home.

"Every time I go outside it reminds me of what happened, and there is just the fear that if he was capable of doing that, what else is he going to do?" questioned Shelley Toole. "I live in fear everyday. And there have been a lot of nights where the kids and I have had nightmares over this, over him."

The family adopted a new dog, a 1-year-old Golden Retriever named Bella, in December. Bella is not allowed to go outside by herself now, even to briefly roam the Tooles' fenced-in backyard.

"Unfortunately, it's not the best of situations," Shelley Toole admitted.

Yet the family is not willing to take any chances on the dog that has "helped heal my heart," Shelley Toole said.

Johnson's preliminary court hearing will be held on April 13.

NBC and KTLA News contributed to this article.

Comments (221)

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6 years ago

This story just sickens me! How can someone be so cruel to a puppy? And why intervene like he did? I think the police really need to look into this guy more. Obviously there's something else not being told. Why would he suddenly do such a thing to a puppy without being provoked in a way that should cause someone to nearly kill a puppy? He seriously needs help, and to be locked up in jail for life!

Good Point | Reply ›


6 years ago

This man is SICK!!! He should have let the other person THAT WAS ALREADY taking the dog home take him, why intervene... only to TORTURE him to death. I think there is a special place in hell for people like that. Too bad it would be illegal for someone to pull his jaws apart and break them and bash his head in. If he has pets... OR CHILDREN they should be removed from his home. There is no helping that psycho, he is probably a future serial killer, animal cruelty is one of the triad common to serial killers, fire starting is another....wonder if he has ever done that?

Good Point | Reply ›

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