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Thursday, August 15, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Publisher Could Face Charges In Dog Shooting

Seattle Times Staff

The Mercer Island city attorney is pondering whether to prosecute Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen on a charge of misdemeanor animal abuse.

Blethen allegedly wounded a neighbor's dog with a pellet gun in May. He admits to shooting near the dog to chase it from his garden but says he did not aim at the animal and did not think he hit it.

The dog's owner, attorney Robert Chicoine, said Blethen shot the 11-month-old yellow Labrador retriever for no apparent reason. The dog suffered two pellet wounds, including one close to his heart, Chicoine said.

Mercer Island Detective Brian Noel, who investigated the May 10 incident, said he initially sought a first-degree felony charge of animal cruelty against Blethen, but the King County Prosecutor's office declined the case. The case is now under review by the city attorney's office for the possible misdemeanor charge.

Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the prosecutor's office, said the case did not rise to the level of felony cruelty because the statute - the so-called "Pasado law," passed after a petting-zoo donkey was beaten and killed by two teenagers in 1992 - requires proof of intent to injure the animal.

In a signed, handwritten statement to police on the day of the incident, Blethen indicated he was sitting in his den when he saw the neighbor's dog in an outside flower garden. He opened the front door and tried to shoo the dog away but "it growled and barked and ran around to the other side of the house."

When the dog began digging at some shrubbery at the northwest corner of his property he yelled at the animal, but it continued digging. Blethen said he then fired a pellet gun at the ground behind the dog. When the dog simply moved to another part of the yard, Blethen said he fired another shot in the "dirt behind him and (the dog) casually walked to (the) fence and swam to his own yard."

Police confiscated a pellet rifle and a pellet pistol from Blethen's home, Noel said.

In a statement to police, Chicoine said his dog, Red, had run off while he was checking the chemicals in his hot tub about 8 a.m. May 10.

The dog returned minutes later, splashing from Lake Washington. When Chicoine attempted to dry the dog with a towel, he found a blood stain. He said he went over to Blethen's house and confronted him.

"I asked him if he shot my dog and he stated yes," Chicoine's statement said. "He then qualified his statement by saying he shot at the dog to scare it and behind him. . . . I informed Frank Blethen that if Red had been on his property and he wanted him removed, he could've called or informed me rather than shoot him."

A veterinarian examined the dog and said a pellet had lodged too close to the dog's heart to be removed. The dog was treated with antibiotics, and the wound apparently is not life-threatening.

"It's a neighborhood dispute blown all out of proportion," Blethen said. He said he and Chicoine have a long-running argument over a vacant lot owned by Blethen that sits between their homes.

Noel noted that police have been dispatched several times recently to both the Blethen and Chicoine homes to hear complaints about the other neighbor.

Chicoine also reported Blethen to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for allegedly shooting pellets at geese. Federal agents placed the Blethen home under surveillance but found no violation and closed their investigation, Noel said.

Blethen said he has never shot directly at geese, but has shot into the water to try to scare them away from his property.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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