Apr 14, 2011 — Teenage boys accused of killing baby owls Warden to refer matter involving 17-year-olds to district attorney
DAVE MASON, NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER
Four baby barn owls like these were found dead Wednesday at the Sheltering Oak Sanctuary for rescued animals in Lompoc. Authorities said they'd been beaten with a two-by-four.
April 9, 2011 9:26 AM
Two 17-year-old boys could face criminal charges after they allegedly killed four baby barn owls, found mutilated at the Sheltering Oak Sanctuary in Lompoc.
Lt. James Solis, warden with the Santa Barbara office of state Department of Fish and Game, told the News-Press Friday he is putting together a formal request for a citation as he refers the matter to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office.
Killing a nongame bird is a misdemeanor.
Lt. Solis said he talked to the boys Wednesday evening but couldn't reveal details of the conversation.
The boys were on the property Wednesday afternoon to deliver hay from a company hired by the sanctuary.
Jill Anderson, 35, director and co-founder of the sanctuary and Shadow's Fund, the nonprofit operating it, lives at the ranch. She said she received a call at work just before 4 p.m. Wednesday from her father, Michael Anderson, who lives at another home on the site.
He told her about finding the dead owls, and Ms. Anderson said she found the remains outside near a hay stack.
The sight shocked her. Their bodies were broken, Ms. Anderson told the News-Press Friday.
"Their legs were twisted. Their faces were completely smashed."
The wings and talons made it clear they were owls, said Ms. Anderson said, who called Fish and Game.
Lt. Solis soon arrived and picked up the evidence, which he described as the owl remains and a nearby two-by-four with blood and owl feathers on it.
"When I first heard about it, I thought, 'Was this a mercy killing?' " Ms. Anderson said.
But she said that the boys' efforts to cover it up made it clear to her it was deliberate and malicious.
It's likely, she said, that the baby owls had fallen into the hay before the boys transported the bales to the ranch.
She said her neighbors Tony and Thea DiNuzzo, who live in another house on the property, saw the boys hammer away at the hay stack with the board.
She said the couple watched them through their living room window. "They watched and saw this strange behavior. They didn't know what to think."
Soon afterward, her father came by to pick up the hay to feed the horses, Ms. Anderson said.
"He saw the dead owls and asked, 'What's that?' "
One of the boys replied: "They were there when we got here."
Mr. Anderson wondered whether a hawk attacked the birds.
"The boys got in a hurry to leave and left a few hay bales on the ground, which was unusual," Ms. Anderson said.
Workers at hay companies know they should put bales on palettes to avoid moisture, so the teenagers clearly were in a rush, she said.
As the boys drove off, the DiNuzzos came out and talked to Mr. Anderson. The three of them put the facts together, Ms. Anderson said.
The maximum punishment for killing a nongame bird is six months in prison and a $1,000 fine under state law, game warden Patrick Foy told the News-Press by phone from Sacramento.
Under the federal Migratory Bird Act, killing the baby owls is a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a $10,000 fine, said U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service spokesman Scott Flaherty by phone from Sacramento.
Juveniles are not prosecuted under the federal law, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife office.
In any case, Ms. Anderson said she sees community service as the likely outcome for the boys if convicted because they're juveniles.
As for the state and federal laws governing this behavior, she added: "I don't think either is strong enough. Every case of deliberate violence against a human or an animal should be considered a felony."
It was particularly tragic that the deaths happened at the sanctuary, Ms. Anderson said.
"Our purpose is to protect animals."
The facility cares for 20 dogs, 18 horses, six chicken, four pigs and a sheep. All but some of the horses are rescue animals.
Because of the owls' deaths, Ms. Anderson said the ranch, which has no staff, will have increased security: Residents at the ranch will now take turns watching anyone coming on the property, gates previously left opened will be closed and signs will be posted saying that it's illegal to kill animals.
The deaths raise questions about why anyone would kill baby animals and whether those who kill the weakest living things will go on to abuse or kill people.
"The issue is power," said Richard Jarrette, a marriage and family therapist from Los Olivos, who sits on the advisory board for Animal Rescue Team Inc., a Santa Barbara County nonprofit. "We find a weaker thing, and we have authority over it."
"There are some features in common with people who kill people and become serial killers," he said, adding that it doesn't necessarily follow that a kid who kills an animal would commit murder.
"They can be good kids from good families who got carried away. However, we have to investigate."
Mr. Jarrette explained a therapist working with youths who killed animals would need to ask questions such as, "Do they set fires? Do they wet the bed? Do other kids like them? Are they loners? How do other kids view them? What's their family history? Do they have mentors?"
He said remorse is a hopeful sign and that there can be opportunities to treat the offenders and give them a "learning moment."
Ms. Anderson said her wish is for the boys to learn empathy for animals.
"I think there's always hope. We rehabilitate youths, and we rehabilitate rescued animals," she said.
"You have to start from a place of hope."
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