An animal behavior specialist draped in a white sheet and wearing a straw hat crouched on all fours in San Fernando Superior Court last week to demonstrate that a dog named Cuddles was neither mean nor aggressive.
Cuddles, a brown-and-white springer spaniel, is the sister of Freckles, a dog that was shot and killed while the two animals were scampering on Earnest Lynn Reubens' ranch.
Reubens, 59, a 15-year resident of Canyon Country, is on trial in San Fernando Superior Court, charged with one count of cruelty to animals and one count of using a firearm with gross negligence.
Reubens pleaded not guilty, but according to prosecutors he admitted to Los Angeles police that he killed the dog because it was running on his land.
Freckles belonged to 4-year-old Erica Owen, who received the puppy as a Christmas gift two years ago. Her 8-year-old sister's Christmas present that year was Cuddles, Freckles' littermate.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Rosalie Morton summoned Cuddles to rebut suggestions by defense attorney Richard P. Guluzza that Freckles was a big, aggressive animal that might have attacked Reubens' sheep. Owen family members said Freckles and Cuddles were almost indistinguishable in appearance and temperament.
"I brought her to court so the jury could see the sweet, darling dogs that they were. They were not killers, or pit bulls; they were pets," Morton said.
Although Guluzza maintained that the canine victim's sister is irrelevant to the case, Judge Ronald S. Coen allowed Cuddles to appear, noting that the defense attorney had asked earlier about Freckles' size.
Cuddles was brought to the front of the courtroom on a leash, and Morton asked Deena Case, a court-appointed animal behavior specialist, to demonstrate a segment of the "27-part Danish temperament test."
As bewildered jurors looked on, Case draped a sheet over her body, put a straw hat on her head, crouched and began moving toward Cuddles, darting to the right and left.
The dog cowered behind its owner.
Case said the test demonstrated that Cuddles was "mildly fearful" when confronted with something she had never seen before and was not aggressive.
Earlier in the trial, the Owens' housekeeper, Delia Villeda, admitted that she generally let the two dogs run on Reubens' land for nearly half an hour a day when she took walks with Erica's baby brother.