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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published July 25 2010

Fergus Falls dog case drawing attention

The criminal case involving a dog left for dead near Fergus Falls, Minn., is drawing a lot of attention, including a petition signed by people from the region and around the world.

Benjamin James Stavaas is charged in Otter Tail County District Court with six animal cruelty charges after he told police he slit his dog’s throat in a fit of rage, according to court records.

More than 1,000 signed the online petition calling for Stavaas to receive the maximum penalty.

Stavaas, 23, Battle Lake, Minn., is scheduled to make his first court appearance Monday morning.

He does not have an attorney of record, and a phone listing for him could not be found.

In court records, Stavaas is accused of using a knife to slit his dog’s throat on June 15 after he got mad at the dog for running after a car.

The dog, a German shepherd mix named Star, wandered into a rural Fergus Falls yard about a week later and was taken to a veterinarian. Star had surgery and is now in a foster home awaiting adoption.

A Facebook page called “Justice for Star in Minnesota” is calling for people to picket outside the courthouse and bring their dogs.

Patty Petry, a Fargo woman who started the page, said she wanted to bring more attention to the case, and she wants Stavaas to get more than a slap on the wrist.

“Those of us who work with animals have read studies on the link between animal abuse and domestic violence,” said Petry, who has volunteered for animal groups for 25 years.

A recent letter to the editor that said dogs are private property refueled discussion over this case.

Letter writer Adam Freeman, a recent Concordia College graduate with a philosophy degree, said Friday he thinks it’s silly that people would picket the court appearance.

“There’s this huge outpouring of anger or frustration over a dog,” said Freeman of Fargo. “You don’t see that for people. You don’t see that for groups of people. Why a dog?”

Animals are purchased, and therefore a commodity or private property, Freeman said.

He compared the incident to an owner putting down a farm animal.

“The only thing he did wrong was he didn’t make sure the dog died,” Freeman said.

Stavaas is charged with two felonies, two gross misdemeanors and two misdemeanors related to torturing and mistreating the dog.

The felony charges each carry a maximum penalty of two years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.

Heather Brandborg, assistant Otter Tail County attorney, said her office has received many calls and e-mails regarding the Stavaas case.

“We receive a lot of response from the community when it involves an egregious crime or a crime involving an animal or children,” Brandborg said.

Ericka Stoltenberg, manager of the Otter Tail County Humane Society, said she’s planning to attend the hearing.

“We want to make him and the community and the court aware that this is a very important case,” Stoltenberg said. “We’re taking it very seriously.”

Brandborg declined to comment further because it’s an open case.

“Those people and their opinions can be considered if Mr. Stavaas is ever convicted, but at this point, it’s an ongoing case,” Brandborg said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590