A man who shot, killed and burned three of his father’s dogs while they were in kennels was sentenced Friday to seven days in jail and 18 months of probation.
Trent Jordan Gruber, 35, of Bayfield pleaded guilty to cruelty to animals, a class 1 misdemeanor. The elements of the offense include “recklessly or with criminal negligence unnecessarily tortured, needlessly mutilated or needlessly killed an animal.”
The charges carry a possible penalty of 364 days in county jail, a $1,000 fine and up to five years probation.
Gruber pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement with the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. During sentencing, 6th Judicial District Judge Todd Norvell warned Gruber that he is not required to accept the plea agreement.
Norvell rejected an earlier plea deal that called for no jail time. But he accepted the second plea agreement that called for up to 20 days in jail, though he sentenced Gruber to only seven days in jail based in part on a recommendation from the District Attorney’s Office.
Norvell asked Gruber about his school schedule. Gruber, who is attending college to become a diesel mechanic, replied that he had finals through Dec. 13. The judge allowed Gruber to report to La Plata County Jail on Dec. 14 to begin serving the seven days.
“Good luck to you,” Norvell told Gruber. “Good luck with your studies, and I hope you are able to get through that and be a productive member of society.”
District Attorney Christian Champagne accounted for the deal by saying Gruber’s father, who said the killing and the burning of the dogs was a “misunderstanding,” did not want his son prosecuted.
“The father and son had said the dogs were vicious and had attacked people and other family members in the past,” said Champagne, who went on to say the plea was “trying to honor the wishes of the victim.”
The killing of the three dogs, all purebred bull mastiffs, occurred in kennels at the Bayfield house where Trent Gruber lives with his father Michael Gruber, according to the affidavit filed by the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff’s Deputy Alayna Latimore responded to the call from Michael Gruber just after 11 p.m. June 22, with Gruber saying his son had shot his dogs. Trent Gruber left the premises in a black Dodge Ram 350 before Latimore arrived, but was then pulled over by an officer with the Southern Ute Police Department.
Latimore joined the officer and questioned Trent Gruber, who said his father was upset with him because he did not like the way he handled the livestock. When Latimore asked him to clarify what he meant, Trent Gruber told Latimore he “euthanized” the dogs. Later, a deputy with the Bayfield Marshall’s Office radioed that there was a fire behind the residence and that he could see dog remains.
Gruber’s father told Deputy Latimore that he returned home from work at 10 p.m. and saw only one of his dogs in the kennels, so he went to check on them and saw blood throughout three of the other kennels. His son informed him he had shot and killed three of the dogs. Michael Gruber then saw the remains of the burning dogs.
Michael Gruber said the night before the incident he told his son they needed to keep the property cleaner and that Trent Gruber had responded, “Well, maybe we need to start killing animals,” according to the affidavit.
Latimore inspected the kennels and reported they had been cleaned but fur was present and what looked to be body parts as well as blood in the drain. Burned dog remains were seen in the still smoldering fire. Based on the evidence, Latimore said, the dogs were killed in their kennel, then taken outside and burned.
Trent Gruber spent one day in jail after the incident. He is ordered to pay $1,158.50 in court costs. When reached by phone Monday, he declined to comment for this story.