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Challenge of ‘Thunder the Wonder Dog’ Animal Abuse Case Struck Down by Appellate Court

Thunder the Wonder Dog after his injuries [Pictures provided by the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office]

Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster’s attempt to challenge the controversial ruling of Judge Clayton Brennan in the well-known Thunder the Wonder Dog trial has been struck down at the Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District in San Francisco. 

The case of Thunder the Wonder dog gained national attention in December 2019 when the German Shepard was found near death in the woods near Caspar. Investigators determined the owner Katie Rhiannon Smith had neglected, botched the execution of the dog at gunpoint, and eventually abandoned Thunder in the woods of coastal Mendocino County.

Many were inflamed when Smith would go on to plea no contest to felony animal cruelty during the October 2020 hearing which resulted in a sentence of unsupervised probation for a term of 36 months, no jail time, the requirement to attend counseling, which prohibited her from possessing animals during that probation period, and required her to serve 500 hours of community service.

District Attorney Eyster was incensed at this outcome, saying in a press release, “It is tough to find justice for victims and the community when there are two defense attorneys in the courtroom – one sitting at counsel table and one wearing a black robe.”

This resulted in a legally unique circumstance in which District Attorney Eyster barred Judge Brennan from hearing any pending criminal case or future cases in which a defendant is charged with animal cruelty or the use of firearms.

As per a press release issued last night, District Attorney Eyster’s attempts to challenge the Judge Brennan’s ruling, which he called “the legal equivalent of an appellate Hail Mary,” were struck down by an appeals court in San Francisco.

The press release attributes the court’s denial to their “very conservative attitude toward lower court decisions that presumes the result in the lower court is correct.”

The press release characterized “two bright lights” of news have emerged regarding the case, one of which is another Mendocino County judge in Ukiah ordered Smith to pay $4,000 in restitution for her involvement in the case, a stipulation not required by Judge Brennan.

The second “bright light,” as described by the press release, is Judge Brennan is still barred from ruling on any cases that touch on issues related to animal abuse and gun use.


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  1. There always seem to be greater outcries from animal cruelty cases than human abuse. The public would have shunned ranchers who treated their horses the way many slave owners treated their (property)

    • except they are smeared as “alt right conspiracy theorists” or “racists” when they discuss the human trafficking ring at the border or in DC.

  2. Someone needs to tally up how many tens of thousands of dollars the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Officer spent on this media case.

  3. This is NOT a political issue. It is a case about disgusting animal abuse and the lack of a judge imposing and following the proper sentence. A slap on the wrist does nothing to deter this convicted person from doing the same crime again!

    • Not a political issue? Then, it was an issue of revenge between Eyster and a Judge acting like two kindergarten kids that not only escalated into a failed repeal, but also an expensive raid on a chicken coup to keep that revenge alive. The initial, proper sentence should have to sentence this lady to a year’s work in an animal shelter.

  4. People who are cruel to animals tend to be cruel to people but there are people who love animals and treat people like shit.
    I never saw animal right activists throw dye on a bikers leathers but a sweet little old lady in mink? Animal rights is a low risk cause. Human rights get you jail time

  5. She did not harm the dog, her dirt bag boyfriend did. The judge recognized this. Eyster recognized opportunity


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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFever
Educator🔸Reporter for KMUD/ Redheaded Blackbelt/Founder of Cold Case Mendocino🔹Local News Junkie

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