Newfield, N.Y. — On the evening of Sept. 17, Ken Colburn heard two gunshots ring out from his neighbor’s house across the street.
He thought nothing of it — his neighbor frequently shot cans in the backyard, once or twice a week.
Around 6:15 a.m. the next morning, Colburn went about his usual business. He went to unload some debris from his truck.
As he was backing down an old road on his property, he noticed a problem with his truck — he got out to investigate. As he exited the vehicle, he noticed something.
“When I opened the door, she was right there — she moved out of the corner of my eye.”
He was looking at the dog that he had given to his neighbor years before, lying outside on the cold ground, her hair covered in blood, with two gunshot wounds to the head.
She was still alive. Officials later said she had been writhing in pain for up to 12 hours.
Colburn, an owner of four dogs — including the parents of the dog he then held in his arms — was mortified. He called the police.
Police say that Jeffrey Wood had shot the two year-old dog twice in the head with a .22 caliber long gun the night before. Wood reportedly left the dog overnight to die.
Without Colburn’s intervention, Lillie — the 2-year-old German shepherd mix — almost certainly would have died.
But, for Colburn, saving the dog turned out better than trying to keep her.
Colburn says he was promised the dog, the SPCA says otherwise
Colburn thinks he deserves custody of the dog he helped raise, fed, played with, donated to a friend, has cared for, and saved.
The SPCA of Tompkins County, however, has decided against letting Colburn own Lillie. (Custody of the dog was signed over the SPCA, WHCU reported on Thursday.)
Executive Director of the SPCA Jim Bouderau noted that Colburn has other dogs in his home. Because Lillie may be severely injured for the rest of her life, Bouderau said, it’s important to keep the dog in an animal-free environment.
“We typically try to place our blind dogs in homes that don’t have other animals in them,” Bouderau said.
Another reason is the proximity of Colburn’s home to the home of the man that allegedly shot the dog. That’s a serious problem, Bouderau said.
“We have our reservations about sending her back to a home next to where this all happened,” Bouderau said.
That doesn’t add up for Colburn, who says the shooting wasn’t his fault and that he has loved the dog for most of its life.
Colburn noted that when the police arrived, he asked to keep the dog after it was back to health.
When he asked again, he says that he was told by the SPCA that he would be the first choice to take ownership of the dog after it healed. He said that the SPCA told him “several times” that the dog would go to him.
Bouderau, however, said that a promise was never made to Colburn.
“I don’t believe any member of my staff promised him anything,” he said in an interview with The Voice.
“I know that he had expressed that interest when the officers found him — and after the fact — and while we appreciate the fact that he’s willing to do that … it’s my understanding that he has other dogs in the home,” Bouderau said.
Several people fundraised for the dog — which will be blind, and potentially face other handicaps for the rest of her life — on the understanding that Colburn would get to care for it.
Michele Peabody, who started a fundraiser for Lillie’s medical expenses, said that Colburn is a hero and that Lillie belongs in “her true home” with him.
Peabody said she helped raise a few hundred dollars for the dog’s expenses on the understanding that the money would help Colburn.
A friend and neighbor, Peabody said Lillie spent most of her time in Colburn’s yard and with Colburn’s dogs.
“He’s always really held his emotions in,” Peabody said of Colburn. But after being told he’s not getting back the dog, Peabody said, “he just flat out cried.”
“He’s beside himself,” Peabody said, before repeating it for effect. “He’s beside himself.”
Colburn said that Wood “seemed to be a good person” when he originally gave Lillie to him.
Wood loved and genuinely cared for her when he first had her, Colburn said.
“When Jeff got her as a puppy, she was fine then … He took her to meetings, everywhere with him … like a best friend,” said Carl Lupo, Colburn’s brother-in-law.
Colburn said he would have stopped Wood had he known there was the possibility of violence.
“I would have went over, kicked his (expletive), and took the dog,” Colburn said.
Wood pleaded not guilty to an aggravated cruelty to animals charge, a felony, reported WHCU. Bouderau, of the SPCA, said that the charge carries a maximum of two years in prison.
After the not guilty plea, the Voice attempted to reach Wood at his home, but he was unavailable for comment.
An online petition entitled “Justice for Lillie! Maximum Penalty For Jeffrey Woods For Trying To Dispose Of Her In a Inhumane Way” has gained traction on PetitionHub.com.
Over 2,200 signatures have been affixed to the web page, calling for authorities to “apply the full extent of law in this case.”
Wood is due in court on October 22 to answer to the felony charge, WHCU reported.