Dog training facility owner, trainer sent to grand jury on aggravated cruelty charge in dog's death

Becky Campbell • Jun 13, 2019 at 1:00 AM

The owner of a dog training center and a trainer who worked there had their aggravated animal cruelty charges bound over to a grand jury after a preliminary hearing Wednesday. 

Randi LaFerney, 55, 405 Sugar Hollow Road, Piney Flats, and Andrew “Andy” Hunigan, 28, 1 Gatewood Drive, Johnson City, appeared in Washington County General Sessions Court with their attorneys, Rick Spivey and Daniel Boyd, respectively. Each is charged with one count of aggravated animal cruelty after an 8-month-old bull terrier named Dallas died in Hunigan’s care, police said.

The dog was supposed to be with Hunigan for two weeks of boarding and training through LaFerney’s business — K9 Off Leash Training East Tennessee — but the time kept getting extended because Hunigan told the owners the pup needed more housebreaking training. The dog was described as “stubborn,” in the housebreaking process, even by his owner.

Through questioning witnesses — including Dallas’ owners, Susan and Brian Arnold —  Spivey tried to distance his client from what Hunigan was accused of when it came to caring for the dog. The only contact the Arnolds had with LaFerney was apparently during the initial phone call to set up Dallas for the two-week training. They dropped Dallas off at the Off Leash at 3 Charter Court, Suite B, Johnson City.

Six weeks later, Dallas was dead from starvation and dehydration, according to a necropsy report completed by the University of Tennessee veterinary school. The report showed the dog had 0% body fat and there was no presence of food in the GI tract. The dog had lost half his body weight in the time he was with Hunigan, officials said. Dallas remained in training that long supposedly because he was not getting the hang of potty training.

During the time Dallas was in training, the Arnolds only had contact with Hunigan, according to their answers to Spivey.

Brian Arnold testified that in hindsight, he should have seen signs that something was wrong after his dog’s training kept getting extended. When the news of Dallas’ death came, Arnold and his wife were shocked. Brian Arnold testified that “we suspected no wrongdoing at all. When you you take your pet to a place like this, you expect that they’re looking out for your pet’s best interest.”

Arnold said when he and his wife were finally able to get Dallas’ body back, they were shocked at the dog’s condition.

Brian Arnold testified he had five phone conversations with LaFerney on May 2 and during one discovered LaFerney was on her way to a funeral home with Dallas, apparently with the intent to send the animal for cremation. He said LaFerney also offered to pay for a necropsy, cremation and to refund the $2,800 they paid for the training.

Arnold denied he gave LaFerney permission to have Dallas cremated. He told LaFerney to return Dallas and meet him and his wife so they could get their dog. He said LaFerney was crying when she got out of the vehicle and consoled his wife. Dallas was lying in the back seat of LaFerney’s vehicle and was covered with a blanket.

“My wife saw him first when the blanket came off,” and she was distraught, he said. Arnold said LaFerney had assured them that she knew for a fact that Hunigan had walked Dallas the previous evening and fed the dog that morning. He said it was “obvious” what had happened to their dog.

After testimony, Spivey argued that the aggravated animal cruelty charge would not apply to his client and there was actually an exception to the law in regard to animals in training.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Rasnake, in his argument, said the defense wanted the court to believe “Mr. Hunigan did nothing wrong at all because he was training the dog.Yet the necropsy report says severe emaciation and severe dehydration was the result of this animal’s death. Without the words on that paper, a trier of fact could look at those pictures and see what happened to that dog just like Ms. Arnold did when that blanket was taken off in the back of that car. She immediately knew what happened to her dog. It was starved to death. And that’s the very definition of aggravated cruelty.”

Rasnake went on to say that Spivey argued LaFerney had no responsibility at all, but “the arrangements were made with her ... she took the payment. And having her name over four different facilities with Off Leash K9 Training, she tells Mr. Arnold the cause of death was the dog choked the night before after having been walked the night before. Is that her experience with animals running training facilities? Then she offers a refund. She’s hesitant about when to meet and where to meet ... and then she offers to dispose of the remains. I’ll have to let the court tell me she’s not responsible. The state’s position is she is.”

Sessions Judge Don Arnold — no relation to Dallas’ owners — said there was no question about probable cause to send Hunigan’s case to the grand jury, but he also said LaFerney, as owner of the training facility, also had a responsibility to ensure the safety of animals in training.

“I have a hard time with her justifying the position that (she) did nothing wrong. She owns the business, she’s responsible for this dog ... there’s no indication she ever checked on this dog to see how it was getting along. I think these are questions of fact as far as what her responsibilities are and if she met those responsibilities.”

LaFerney and Hunigan are both free on $10,000 bond. Their court hearing in Criminal Court is Sept. 27.

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