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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published July 27 2010

Dog abuse case draws picketers but not accused

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. – An arrest warrant has been issued for Benjamin James Stavaas after he failed to appear in court Monday on animal cruelty charges.

Stavaas, 23, Battle Lake, was summoned to appear in Otter Tail County District Court on the charges that stem from his admission to investigators that he slit his dog’s throat in a fit of rage.

The case has generated a lot of interest around the region, and about 20 people with signs and their dogs picketed outside the courthouse Monday.

Stavaas is believed to have absconded because his probation officer has been unable to contact him at his address, said Heather Brandborg, assistant Otter Tail County attorney.

Stavaas is on probation from a 2006 Wadena County conviction of terroristic threats and domestic assault.

A phone listing for Stavaas is not available. He does not have an attorney of record.

Ericka Stoltenberg, manager of the Otter Tail County Humane Society, said she wasn’t surprised that Stavaas didn’t attend his hearing.

“He’s a coward, and he always will be,” Stoltenberg said.

Many traveled from Fargo-Moorhead for Stavaas’ court appearance.

Becky Trandem of Moorhead, a volunteer with 4 Luv of Dog Rescue in Fargo, held a sign that read “Ultimate Justice for Star.”

“It was just a horrendous crime that was committed upon him,” said Trandem, accompanied by her dog, Elvis, who had been abused.

Stavaas is charged with two felonies, two gross misdemeanors and two misdemeanors related to torturing and mistreating his dog, Star, a German shepherd mix.

Court records say that around June 15, Stavaas used a knife to slit the dog’s throat after he got mad at the dog for running after a car.

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.

Those who picketed say they want the maximum penalty for Stavaas if he’s convicted.

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

Kelsey McFarlane, also with 4 Luv of Dog, said she brought her dog, Buster, to the courthouse to stand up for dogs.

“I wanted to make it known that it’s not acceptable what he did,” said McFarlane.

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