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Owner convicted of killing search-and-rescue dog

Friday, February 12, 1999

By Tom Gibb, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

EBENSBURG, Pa. - He came in giant size - an unshakably affable dog named Samson's Thunder, a search-and-rescue expert that won celebrity status with guest appearances at Johnstown-area elementary schools and nursing homes.

And he was Ronald Shawley's dog, "probably the only true friend Ron ever had," said Kevin Rozich, Shawley's lawyer.

Yesterday, Shawley, 40, was sentenced to two years probation, and fined $500 for killing the dog, an 8-month-old Newfoundland that was found choked to death at the bottom of a rain-gorged stream outside his house, seven miles north of Johnstown in May 1997.

That day, Shawley ensured himself top billing on local newscasts by calling police, telling of finding his dog missing after getting an anonymous call from a man warning, "Let's see how good your dog is at saving itself."

As police questioned Shawley the next day, the tale unraveled. Two months ago, before Cambria County Judge Thomas Swope, Shawley pleaded guilty but mentally ill, saying he had been under treatment for depression, anxiety and an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Shawley isn't likely to be typecast as an animal abuser.

This lean man with the intense gaze is an Eagle Scout with no criminal record, the dog handler who founded the local Laurel Highlands Search and Rescue Team two years ago.

"I love my dog, and I miss him," Shawley told Swope.

Swope, though, banned him from owning other animals.

"The psychotherapist suggested that another animal might help him work through this," Rozich said.

No, Swope said.

Four years ago, another Newfoundland of Shawley's died of pesticide poisoning, something Shawley blamed on bad feed. This time, the Jackson Township Police Department charged that Shawley put a plastic bag over his dog's head, weighted him down and heaved him into the stream.

Rozich said yesterday there were no bags or weights, that the death was an accident that started when Shawley took the dog walking with a choke chain and 50-foot leash.

When the animal jumped in the stream, Shawley choked it to death trying to pull it out, Rozich said.

Then, he panicked and wove the story about the phone call, the lawyer said.

"That was Ron's life, taking this dog and being able to show off his dog," Rozich told Swope.

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