A Florida jury ruled in favor of a defendant’s self-defense argument on Friday, saying the 2016 shooting death of a family dog ​​was justified.

The trial in the fatal shooting of Candy, a 5-year-old Staffordshire terrier mix, resumed late last week after a small delay after three jurors tested positive for COVID-19. Circuit Judge Lee Haworth decided to continue the trial in person at the Venice South County Courthouse with all eight jurors.

The jury deliberated for less than two hours on Friday before deciding that defendant Zachary Deeaterly was justified in shooting Candy.

Plaintiff Rodney Jacobson had sued Deeaterly for the November 18, 2016 incident, where he claimed Deeaterly killed his dog for no reason other than barking. Jacobson’s attorney, Matthew Tympanick, had asked the jury for $450,000 in damages.

In 2016, Zachary K. Deeaterly, far left, (was) is accused of fatally shooting Rod Jacobson's (off-camera) dog, Candy.  Five and a half years later, the civil trial at the South Sarasota Courthouse in Venice began on Wednesday, June 15, 2022.

Deeaterly testified that he approached Jacobson when Candy suddenly sprang from some saw palmetto, growling and throwing herself at him. The two were on the Deeaterly homestead when the incident happened.

Deeaterly said he tried to stomp on the ground, screaming and kicking Candy to stop, while calling Jacobson for help. Jacobson had done nothing, he added.

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Mortally afraid of being hurt, then used his gun to fire three shots – the last hitting Candy. Jacobson rushed Candy to two vet clinics before she died.

“Mr. Deeaterly is grateful for the noble work of the judge, jurors, court staff and sheriff’s deputies overseeing the trial, and is pleased with the just result achieved by the unanimous jury,” said Bryan Kessler, l attorney for Deeaterly, said in an emailed statement.

Kessler added that Deaterly had received death threats throughout the trial after being “subjected to intentional smear campaigns” that accumulated in a four-minute news segment on the Friday before the trial began.

In 2016, Candy, the dog of Nokomis resident Rod Jacobson (middle), was shot and killed.  Five and a half years later, the civil trial at the South Sarasota Courthouse in Venice began on Wednesday, June 15, 2022.

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Conversations for seeing pets as more than property

In the United States and Florida, by law, animals are considered personal property.

However, data collected by the Humane Society of the United States in 2017-2018 shows that 80% of pet owners consider their pets to be family members and only 3% consider them property.

Dr. Holly Barbour, 73, sat in the gallery of the South County Courthouse in Venice all day of the trial. Although she was disappointed with the result, she half expected it.

“It wasn’t about the money for them,” Barbour said of Jacobson and Watson.

Barbour wholeheartedly hopes this case starts conversations to change the law to treat pets as more than property.

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“I think we need to come to a consensus as humans that mammals, which we know have a full range of human emotions, … are indeed sentient beings,” Barbour said.

According to an article by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, in order for animals to be elevated in status under the law, they must be considered legal persons. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is a non-profit organization created by lawyers to protect animals and advance their interests through the legal system.

Gabriela Szymanowska is a member of the Report For America body that covers criminal justice, courts and the legal system for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. You can support his work with a tax-deductible donation to Report for America. ​​​​​Contact Gabriela Szymanowska at [email protected], or on Twitter.