Owner files lawsuit after city holds dog 8 months, threatens euthanasia

VISALIA, Calif. -- A Visalia woman says she is doing everything she can to stop her dog from being put down after the city deemed it vicious earlier this year.

Kimberly Stokes has hired a new lawyer and this week, she filed a federal lawsuit against the city.

Her dog Armani has been held at the Visalia Animal Care Center for more than eight months.

In February, two weeks after two of her dogs got out, Stokes attended an administrative hearing that would determine their fate.

Her neighbor claimed Armani knocked him down and bit one of his small dogs and that Mademoiselle, her other dog, bit his other dog.

But Stokes does not believe her dogs hurt her neighbor or his dogs.

The hearing officer released Mademoiselle to Stokes, but deemed Armani vicious, and, citing a previous incident with the same neighbor, ordered him to be euthanized.

But Stokes says that was not an aggressive incident, was never reported, and actually involved her other male dog.

"It was not Armani," Stokes said. "It was Gianni that went towards the harness in a playful manner," she said, referring to the earlier incident.

"The whole thing was unfair from the beginning," said Marla Tauscher, Stokes' new attorney who specializes in animal control and shelter law. "This dog shouldn't be penalized for these ridiculous hearings."

Tauscher now represents Stokes, and on Monday, filed a lawsuit against the city in federal court.

It included an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order so the city would not euthanize Armani.

On Tuesday afternoon, the city decided it would, "allow the court to rule on some preliminary matters before taking any steps to euthanize the dog."

Tauscher says it was basically a stay of execution.

But the lawsuit goes further, claiming the city violated Stokes' constitutional rights by depriving her of due process during the administrative hearing process, including the right to cross-examine witnesses and an unbiased judge.

"You still have the overarching requirements of the due process clause of the constitution, the U.S. Constitution, and the California Constitution, so it shouldn't be a free-for-all, but it is," Tauscher said.

The lawsuit says, "Defendant's flagrant disregard for due process has resulted in the prolonged detention and a death sentence for Armani, and violation of Stokes' right to at the expense of Stokes who has been forced to pay over $5,000 in "boarding" fees to the city."

"He does not deserve to be killed and that's basically what this comes down to is that they want to kill him," Stokes said.

As part of a response, Visalia city officials said, "The dog in question and his owner have a history of not complying with the city's ordinance," referring to the alleged previous incident as well as five citations for violating the city's animal ordinance in 2016.

Kimberly says these were warnings and were taken care of right away.

The next court hearing will take place on November 21st.
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