Mozart’s killing has since prompted an investigation that may be one of the highest-profile cases the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, in Olympia, has ever handled. In a statement — titled “Investigation results regarding the death of Salma Hayek’s dog” — the department said Monday that Hayek’s neighbor had shot at the dog with an air rifle after he found it fighting with two of his dogs in his garage, and it said the shooting was justified.
Dog-lovers and Hayek fans decried the lack of criminal charges on social media. But whether killing someone else’s pet on your own property is illegal is by no means cut-and-dried. Laws vary from state to state, and “it’s all context,” said Diane Balkin, a staff attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a California-based nonprofit group.
One conclusion might be reached if, say, a cat was lured by a disgruntled neighbor onto property with sardines with the purpose of killing it, she said. It might be a different story if a dog had a history of menacing people and was doing so when shot. (Other laws typically apply in cases of dogs that kill livestock, which the law views as having economic value.)
“I don’t believe anywhere that there’s carte blanche that you can kill an animal trespassing on your property,” Balkin said. “It so depends on context and circumstances.”
When people are charged in these sorts of cases, it’s usually with animal cruelty, she said, which is a felony in all 50 states and is now being tracked by the FBI. In November, for example, an Alabama man was charged with animal cruelty after fatally shooting a neighbor’s dog for pooping in his yard.
In Washington, where Hayek has a ranch near the town of Yelm, state law defines first-degree animal cruelty as “killing an animal by a means causing undue suffering or while manifesting an extreme indifference to life.” In her Instagram post, Hayek suggested Mozart had suffered, saying he “didn’t deserve a slow and painful death.”
But the sheriff’s office said Monday that it did not deem the killing a violation of the law, because Mozart and another one of Hayek’s dogs were inside the property owner’s garage and harassing his canines. According to the department’s statement, the ranch caretaker took Mozart and other dogs — Hayek is an animal lover who has said she has some 50 pets, including alpacas, turkeys, chickens and parrots — with her when she went horseback riding on Feb. 19. When the caretaker got home, she realized Mozart was missing. She then went outside and found him lying dead on a trail.
A veterinarian’s necropsy found that the dog had been shot with a .177-caliber air rifle, which is often used for hunting birds, and that its pellet had “nicked a pulmonary artery causing Mozart to internally bleed out,” the statement said.
The neighbor admitted to having shot Mozart in “the behind” after finding him fighting with his two German Shepherds but didn’t realize he’d struck the dog, which ran off, the sheriff’s office said. Kim Lund, the neighbor’s wife, told the Associated Press that her husband had only intended to scare the dogs away. She also said Hayek’s dogs had often chased their dogs on their property.
“We didn’t even know we killed a dog. To find out we killed a dog that belonged to a high profile person, I’m in shock,” Lund said. “My heart is broken. I’m really sorry that the dog died.”
County prosecutors are reviewing the case, so charges aren’t out of the question. Hayek, for her part, has not commented on the investigation.