Great Falls Tribune, MT
Sunday, May 4, 2003
Collie Saga Changes Cruelty Law
By CAROL BRADLEY
Tribune Staff Writer
Nearly 200 collies discovered in a tractor trailer last fall are leaving a
legacy -- tough new language in Montana's animal cruelty law.
Gov. Judy Martz recently signed into law the bill making it a felony to
purposely torture or terrify an animal or abuse or neglect a kennel or herd
of 10 or more animals.
Under the new law, district judges may also hold hearings early on in a case
to determine where best to place the animals and whether to require alleged
perpetrators to pay for their care.
Previous efforts to bolster the law had gone nowhere, the sponsor of the
bill, Rep. Dave Gallik, D-Helena, said. But the case of the collies
galvanized so much public support that the Legislature had no choice but to
climb on board this year and pass the bill.
"I've never had a bill that's had that kind of support," Gallik said.
Ironically, the collies themselves won't benefit from the new law. But
because of them, future animal cruelty offenders will face stiffer
The collies made Montanans realize that "the horrible things people do to
animals should not be a misdemeanor," Linda Hughes, director of the Humane
Society of Cascade County, said.
Toole County sheriff's officials charged the collies' owners, Alaska
residents Jon Harman and Athena Lethcoe-Harman, with 181 counts of animal
cruelty after discovering 166 collies, five other dogs and 10 cats crowded
into the couple's tractor trailer when they entered the United States from
The Harmans were headed to a new home in Arizona and had transported the
animals 2,240 miles over nine days. Officials said the dogs were dehydrated,
weak and sick. One died later that day.
State law at the time decreed that, because the charges against the Harmans
represented first-time offenses, they must be treated as misdemeanors.
The maximum penalty of each charge is six months in jail and/or a $500 fine.
In reality, however, offenders rarely do jail time and usually get off with
a small fine, a Tribune investigation found. Even in subsequent cases when
they're charged with felonies, perpetrators tend to duck any time behind
bars. What's more, they often get their animals back.
The collies garnered an avalanche of publicity partly because overnight they
became the responsibility of Toole County. Officials housed the dogs at the
Marias fairgrounds east of Shelby and, over the months, dozens of volunteers
from surrounding communities and as far away as California and Florida
devoted time, energy and money to care for the animals.
In Helena, legislative phone lines and hearing rooms were jammed with collie
supporters eager to see passage of Gallik's House Bill 553. At one point,
Gallik said, Rep. Joe McKenney, R-Great Falls, approached him on the House
floor to say, "You're starting to go overboard on this. My sister-in-law is
telling me to vote on this bill."
The final House vote on the bill was 84-15. The Senate passed it 47-2.
"I think they were kind of jealous I was able to get that kind of support
behind a bill," Gallik said of his colleagues.
Distributed in accordance with Title 17 U. S. C. Section 107.