SPOKANE — The emotional wounds were still fresh Monday afternoon in Spokane County Superior Court as the victims of an animal cruelty case addressed a man they accused of letting two dogs die in his care at a Medical Lake facility nearly two years ago.
Through tears and harsh language, the owners of dogs Andy and Drake described their anger and their disgust for Greg Houser, the 47-year-old man who is accused of two counts of animal cruelty and one count of unlawful operation of a commercial kennel.
“When we walk through the door after long day at work, we are greeted not by a sweet, loving dog, we are greeted by an urn that holds his ashes,” said Brian Schallberger, who regarded his dog, Drake, as one of his children. “Not only did my wife and I trust you, but Drake did too.”
The thought that his dog was wondering where his owners were made Schallberger and his wife “physically sick,” he said through a video conference in Judge Raymond Clary’s courtroom.
Houser entered into a felony diversion program through an agreement between county prosecutors, rather than take the case to trial. Under the program, Houser, who is a resident of California, is required to pay $5,000 in restitution to the victims and cannot possess animals in his care, among a number of other requirements.
The victims in the case expressed disappointment that the case dragged on for so long and that Houser was getting off with a “slap on the wrist.”
Houser was said to be training multiple dogs to hunt through his business, Houser’s Quality Labs, during summer 2021 at a property he was renting in Medical Lake.
According to court documents, Houser brought Andy and Drake into the West Plains Animal Hospital on Aug. 12, 2021. Hospital staff noted that Andy had a temperature of more than 104 degrees, was dehydrated, semi-comatose, and had a number of other health conditions upon his arrival, including various kennel sores, court documents said.
Drake already was dead when he arrived, they said.
A veterinarian ruled the dogs likely suffered and died from a lack of water.
Both dogs were considered healthy and in good shape prior to Houser taking them to his facility.
One other dog also died a few weeks previous from a disease known as parvo, Houser told hospital staff.
Animal protection officers from Spokane Regional Animal Protection Services found more than eight dogs, all more than 6 months old, were being housed in aluminum transport trailers that were in full sun during a heat wave without air conditioning or ventilation, court documents said. Additionally, the SCRAPS officers found Houser did not provide the dogs with enough water or adequate medical attention and that their deaths were preventable.
Ellen Ziegler, who owned the property that Houser rented, said she offered to give him a standalone cattlerun so the dogs could get out of the hot trailer, but that he refused. Ziegler said she respected Houser as a former Marine and California Highway Patrol officer and thought he was trustworthy.
“I was dead wrong,” she said. “My trust was shaken to its core.”
The man had been a guest at Ziegler’s Medical Lake property off and on in the years before the COVID pandemic, she said. He began renting from her in spring 2021. After the deaths of Andy and Drake, Houser blamed the soil, water and food, she said.
“You know what truly killed these dogs: your negligence,” Larry Leidelmeyer, owner of Andy, said to Houser. “You were not equipped to adequately house these dogs in triple-digit heat.”
Additionally, unqualified people employed by Houser were managing the dogs without his supervision throughout the summer, Ziegler said.
At least five other dogs were jeopardized by Houser’s actions, SCRAPS officers said in court documents.
It took about a year before the incident was brought to Superior Court, in part due to a backlog of criminal cases during the COVID pandemic and some evidentiary issues with witnesses, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Rebecca Kopp said in court.
Houser must obey all requirements of the felony diversion program for a year. If he breaks any of them, he could be looking at up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Like Houser’s other clients, Leidelmeyer met Houser in California through mutual friends. Leidelmeyer said Houser trained two of his other dogs in the past, with overall positive results.
“He wanted to become a dog trainer and he became one of the best,” Houser’s defense attorney, Kyle Madsen, said in court. “Everyone here said he was one of the best, until this incident. He truly loves dogs.”
Leidelmeyer said he intends to take up a civil suit against Houser in Merced County, California, where Houser lives.