Mother, daughter get work release confinement for dog’s death

By Jerzy Shedlock, Columbian staff writer

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A mother and daughter were sentenced Friday in Clark County Superior Court to 30 and 45 days of work release confinement, respectively, for letting a dog starve and freeze to death in a shop attached to the garage of a Washougal home.

Melissa M. Stevens, 38, and Skylar P. Stevens, 19, were charged in January 2017 with first-degree animal cruelty in the death of 6-year-old Frantic, a male pit bull. They pleaded guilty in December to an amended charge of that charge in the second degree.

The exact terms of their sentences are undetermined. Both will be screened to determine if they are eligible for work release, which will allow them to leave the Jail Work Center Facility in Vancouver to go to their jobs, said Deputy Prosecutor Kristen Arnaud.

If officials find them ineligible, Skylar Stevens will serve 30 days jail time and have to work 15 more days with a work crew; Melissa Stevens will do 15 days each of the same.

Superior Court Judge Scott Collier handed down the slightly longer sentence against the daughter because she was more responsible for Frantic’s care, he said.

The mother and daughter were represented separately. Skylar Stevens had a court-appointed attorney. Erin Bradley McAleer represented Melissa Stevens free of charge, because they know each other.

Skylar Stevens declined to give a statement to the court when given a chance. Melissa Stevens told the judge through muffled cries, “This didn’t happen purposefully.”

On Jan. 6, 2017, Skylar Stevens’ grandmother, Debra Mattila, called 911 after finding Frantic underweight and frozen to death in the shop of the attached garage of a house in the 500 block of K Street, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Mattila told law enforcement and animal control officers she had been asking both women about Frantic’s condition. Both told her they had been feeding the dog and providing him with a heat source, the affidavit says.

Frantic was kept in the locked shop on a cold concrete floor, covered with urine and feces, court records state, and in 20-degree temperatures.

According to the officers who responded, the dog’s water bowl was frozen, his bed was torn and chewed up, and there was no food in sight.

Arnaud, the state prosecutor, repeated those details during the sentencing hearings for the women and recommended 90-day sentences. She also noted a necropsy performed the day after the dog’s death found no food in his stomach. Frantic was nearly 40 pounds heavier two months before his death, she said.

The care provided by the women was “incredibly deficient,” Arnaud said.

“A life was lost. It was an animal’s life, but that doesn’t make it any less important,” she said.

Skylar Stevens’ attorney, Brandon Campbell, disputed the findings of necropsy. He said it was apparent the dog had “pica,” a symptom characterized by an animal, or person, chewing and swallowing random material.

Campbell said his client maintained throughout their meetings that she regularly fed Frantic. Skylar Stevens said she fed the dog the day before his death but not the day of his death, as she initially told officers, according to the defense attorney.

“(Skylar Stevens) feels terrible” about the mistake and the death, Campbell said.

McAleer argued Melissa Stevens entrusted Frantic’s care to her daughter, and the mother was unable to check on the dog herself because she was busy with work and other responsibilities. He said Melissa Stevens was previously a dog breeder and involved in animal rescues.

“She has a great love of dogs, a great love of pets,” McAleer said.

Judge Collier found Skylar Stevens indigent and unable to pay what would have been a $1,000 fine. Melissa Stevens was ordered to pay the fine. An amount of restitution to be paid to a Washougal animal shelter and local officers there will be determined at a later date.

The judge also barred the women from owning or caring for dogs during their two-year periods of probation.