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Claim of abuse prompts citation of dog trainer

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A Boise business is heading to court after a former client's claim of animal mistreatment prompted a citation from the Idaho Humane Society.

It marks the first time in institutional memory that IHS has issued a citation to a dog trainer, according to spokeswoman Dee Fugit, and if found guilty, the trainer faces up to six months in jail or a $300 fine.

But the owners of The Dog House aren't planning to let the accusation slide. Linda Yanez and her husband Richard, who is named in the citation, plan to fight what they say is an unfounded accusation.

It all began on Jan. 7, when Keoni Lima took his 9-month-old golden retriever, Kekoa, to an obedience class taught by Richard Yanez. During the class, Lima said he witnessed what he believed was inappropriately harsh treatment of the dogs.

In an e-mail sent to BW, Lima states that the class was, "surprisingly full of angry loud yelling, physical abusive discipline, and leadership driven by fear. Richard welcomed the class by breaking-in a 9-month-old boxer by the name of Baxter by yanking a choke chain as hard as humanly possible several dozen times and lifting the dog off the floor."

Lima said the trainer later "kicked the dog in the head and jaw," for what Lima believed was no reason at all.

The following day, Lima contacted IHS and filed a complaint. He also withdrew from the four-week program and was given a refund.

"It was really a disappointing and horrible experience," Lima said. "[The trainer] was not dedicated to the safety of the dogs or their well-being. It was about him being inconvenienced and pissed off about this dog."

Lima said he originally found the training program online and was attracted to it because it offered the Jan Manning training style, which Lima said is based on building a relationship with a dog by making it clear the owner is the leader.

But Lima said the method employed at The Dog House was not the positive reinforcement-based technique he thought he had signed up for.

"I want them to be held accountable," he said. "The courts and the city will decide on the true nature of the crime, but based on what I saw, it was a horrific experience, and I wouldn't want anyone to go through it."

Yanez, however, said the claims have no validity and that Lima never voiced any of his concerns to the trainer either during, or immediately after the class.

"The trainer would never physically harm a dog," she said. "He can be a very stern-sounding and -looking person and will use a very harsh or stern voice if it's warranted, but not kicking, hitting or choking dogs."

Housed in a clean, white building on the Boise Bench, The Dog House has been in business for more than three years and offers obedience classes, doggie day-care and sells an assortment of dog products.

Yanez said she was surprised to hear the complaint, especially considering she had spoken to the owners of the dog in question, and they had not expressed any concerns.

In fact, the owners of the boxer said they don't feel any sort of abuse happened.

"We don't see it as animal cruelty," said owner Rebekah McCombs. "If we did, we'd be gone."

McCombs and her husband, Matt, attended the class with their 9-month-old boxer, Baxter, and saw the incident in question much differently than Lima.

The couple both said they saw their dog begin a stare-down with Lima's dog, and the trainer stepped in to avoid a fight.

What Lima called a kick in the head, McCombs describes as the trainer using the top of his foot and shin to push up on her dog's lower jaw, to close his teeth and stop a fight.

While the action surprised McCombs, she said it was not a kick. "[The trainer] was just getting his attention," she said. "[It was] not animal cruelty by any means."

Matt McCombs said the action did not hurt his dog. "He didn't yelp. He didn't try to hide under the chair or anything," he said.

He said his dog was never pulled completely off the ground although the trainer did pull on a choke collar to control the dog.

Yanez said that while she was aware of the complaint, she was surprised to receive the citation.

"We thought [IHS] would investigate it," she said.

But IHS isn't required to actually investigate a claim before it issues a citation. Fugit said that once a formal complaint is filed, her office is required to issue a citation if officers feel it could be legitimate.

"It's not up to us to investigate," she said. "If a complaint sounds justified, we serve a citation. It's up to the judge to determine the validity," Fugit said.

There is no licensing or certification required for dog trainers in Idaho, and Fugit said many trainers do business on a small scale, taking on clients by recommendation only.

A quick check of the phone book revealed at least 14 trainers in the Boise area.

Yanez said the business will plead not guilty and fight the charges in court.

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