- Courtesy photo
- Gloria Saputo's dog, Suzy, a Shih Tzu/poodle mix.
From the onset, the associate public defender expected a quick negotiation. She was wrong, of course. Instead of an open and shut case, attorney Brady Smith says, city lawyers threatened jail time for her client unless she pleaded guilty to the charges at hand.
But the defendant, Gloria Saputo, 75, did commit a crime. That's what a justice court jury determined in February. The offense: Her dogs barked.
In fact, they might have been barking all day; Saputo was out on Aug. 4, 2016, the date of the offense, while her late husband stayed at home. Neighbors, fed up with the noise, eventually called the cops. And soon enough the city had a case pending against her.
During plea negotiations, the sticking point centered on the requisite forfeiture of the two dogs. Saputo, a Sugar House widow, found the demand unacceptable, and the deal broke off before it even started. Her canines—Lilly, a German shepherd, and Suzy, a Shih Tzu-poodle mix—are like family, she says.
Because the dogs weren't cited for attacking or acting aggressively, Smith questioned the need to confiscate them.
"I haven't been able to find anything in case law where dogs are forfeited over barking," she says. "In the cases of animal cruelty or if the dogs are biting people, that's obviously different. But in this, they actually asked the judge to take the dogs away from her."
She was also surprised that the prosecutor wasn't willing to reduce the pending misdemeanor charge to an infraction, thereby giving a judge the option of putting Saputo behind bars, if convicted. "Here I am, telling this 74-year-old woman that they're going to throw her in jail because she has dogs barking," Smith says.
It surely didn't help Saputo that the Aug. 4 affair wasn't her first citation. Her dogs garnered complaints on two previous occasions in 2016, which were settled in a global plea in abeyance deal. And in April, Saputo was charged with animal neglect due to Suzy's matted and unkempt fur. That allegation was resolved after a trip to the groomer.
Saputo contested the charges at trial, but lost, and was ordered to relinquish Lilly and Suzy to animal control. She immediately appealed the verdict in district court, where trial is scheduled for mid-April. Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills stayed the sentence pending the appeal, meaning Saputo is allowed to have her dogs back for the time being.
Had they not been released, Smith is doubtful that Saputo's two dogs would quiet the neighborhood. Barking dogs, she notes, is common enough.
According to Deann Shepherd, communications director at the Humane Society of Utah, agency investigators received 40 complaints regarding barking dogs in 2016 but were not aware of any that resulted in forfeitures. Shepherd went on to say that incessant barking is commonly a sign that a dog's needs are not being met.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, who oversees the City Attorney's Office, points to Saputo's history with animal control as precisely the reason the judge ordered the dogs' forfeiture.
"When they fail [to comply with prior court orders], we follow the process outlined, and if counsel cannot resolve the matter or will not have their client understand it, then making the process available to the continuing complaints from citizens is the only option left," he says via email.
In February, the city slapped Saputo with seven additional charges stemming from another barking incident. Gill notes that the prosecution was predicated on repeated calls to the city from neighbors.
"Complaints are generated not by the prosecution but arise out of disturbances within the community, from citizens," he says. "The laws are on the books to try and pave a path of responsibility. Every effort was made with prior attempts as well as other options provided to resolve the matter."
Smith argues, however, that efforts made by her client to curb the noise were overlooked. After being assigned to the case, she explained the severity of the punishment, and Saputo promptly purchased bark collars and hung a blind in the yard to obscure the dogs' view from distractions on the street. "I think it's a misuse of our funding to do an entire jury trial on a case like this," she says.
Jennifer Golembeski, a neighbor who operates a home business and one of the witnesses for the city, says the constant barking tested her sanity. She says she wishes the problem had been resolved prior to the point where it entered a courtroom.
"None of us ever wanted it to go this far," Golembeski says. When talking as neighbors didn't seem to work, police and animal control got involved. "It kind of spiraled to this point. It never had to go this far."