A Soldotna man charged with animal cruelty changed his plea to guilty and accepted a lesser charge from the state on Friday.
During a hearing at the Kenai Courthouse Friday morning, Samuel Stroer pleaded guilty to one count of animal cruelty that had been taken down from a felony to a class A misdemeanor. Superior Court Judge Carl Bauman handed down a sentence of one year in jail with 180 days of that jail time suspended as well as four years of probation.
Stroer was charged with animal cruelty in October after troopers reported he beat a male labrador-pitbull mix named Paco to death. Troopers wrote in an affidavit that Stroer beat the dog with a piece of metal and a two-by-four after he said he became aggressive.
Defense Attorney Nathan Lockwood argued self defense was the main factor in Stroer’s actions. On the stand, Stroer said he was in the process of putting Paco in his bedroom to keep him away from another dog when Paco became aggressive and tried to bite him.
“You have to realize this is an emergency situation,” Stroer said of his reaction.
After defending himself, Stroer said the dog “kept on coming” at him and that he decided the dog would have to be put down. Already on probation for a prior conviction, Stroer said he made do with what he had because he could not have firearms in the house.
“That decision may be a poor decision on my part but that’s the decision I made,” he said. “…I was also afraid I would be liable for this dog’s actions.”
Stroer said he attempted to put the dog down by striking him in the head, but that it wasn’t as quick as he had expected.
“Like I said, he proved a lot more resilient than I first thought, that’s why I stopped the assault,” Stroer said.
Stroer and two of his friends called to the stand said the dog had exhibited violent tendencies prior to the beating, including attacking another dog in the house and being aggressive toward Stroer on the first day they met.
“As they say, he was unpredictable but it was not toward humans,” said Cierra Conklin, the dog’s former owner, on the stand. “I agree people need to defend themselves, to an extent.”
Conklin said she was aware Paco was aggressive toward other dogs, and that it prompted her decision to re-home him to a couple living in Stroer’s house at the time. The couple was not present during the beating. Conklin said she had warned them about what Paco could be like with other dogs.
Bauman agreed that the beating had started as self defense, but said it crossed the line into a crime when Stroer beat the dog after pulling him into his room.
“I think those things were above and beyond…” Bauman said. “It was kind of a sloppy — if you will, cruel — attempt.”
Stroer, who provided examples of different dogs he has owned and cared for in the past, expressed remorse at the outcome of the incident. He said his intent was to put down what he felt was a troubled and violent animal, not to cause the dog suffering.
“I’ve never had this kind of interaction with an animal before,” Stroer said. “I wanted to get it over with, but I didn’t like it… I feel absolutely terrible about it. It ain’t no joy, it’s terrible.”
Stroer will not be allowed to own a pet during his probation. Bauman also ordered that he pay restitution for the costs incurred from the Soldotna Animal Hospital where Paco was euthanized and take an anger management course.
The state originally sought a psychiatric evaluation as well, which Bauman denied. Stroer, who served in the U.S. Navy during Desert Storm, said he does not have post-traumatic stress disorder or any other mental issues.
In the wake of the case, a Facebook page titled Justice for Paco was created to keep track of court hearings and encourage the community to write letters to the Regional District Attorney’s Office in Kenai urging the state not to offer Stroer a deal. While reviewing letters written as part of the Justice for Paco movement, Bauman noted some letters had come from as far as Aniak. Some letters came from other countries, including France, Spain, Argentina, Greece, Germany, Norway and more.
An online petition urging that Stroer not be given a plea deal was also created and has more than 2,700 signatures to date. More than 20 people showed up to Friday’s hearing to show their support. After the hearing, Conklin said the Justice for Paco movement will continue even though the case involving her former dog is over.
“We did get something, so that’s better than nothing,” Conklin said. “I would have rather seen a little bit more justice, but I am thankful for the outcome that was given.”
Conklin said she will continue working through the Justice for Paco page, including giving out dog collars to those who join the cause as a way to spread awareness. Some of the collars originally belonged to Paco, she said.
“I don’t want it to happen to another dog, and I don’t want the state to keep bringing it down to a misdemeanor,” Conklin said.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.