Millard "Lou" Tierce is the Fort Worth veterinarian who was allegedly harvesting blood from dogs he was supposed to euthanize until his office was raided earlier this year.
Tierce, whose vet license was suspended last week, was initially arrested on a charge of animal cruelty. Somehow, though, a misdemeanor, as animal cruelty is classified under Texas law, didn't seem sufficient for so grotesque a crime. Which may explain why, when Tierce was indicted today, prosecutors had secured two additional charges: misapplication of fiduciary property and theft between $1,500 and $20,000, both state jail felonies.
The animal-cruelty charge is fairly cut and dry. The two stiffer charges are rather curious and hinge on a question that's never really been settled under Texas law: How much is a dog worth?
Usually, the matter comes up when trying to figure out how to prosecute cases in which pets are snatched as bait for fighting dogs, says Skip Trimble, a Dallas attorney and animal welfare advocate. In the absence of a law specifically addressing pet theft -- something Trimble and others have unsuccessfully pressed the Legislature to do -- such crimes have to be prosecuted the same way as ordinary theft cases, in which the punishment range is based entirely on the value of the property stolen.
"Therein lies the problem," Trimble says. Without tangible proof that their animal was worth more than $50, not based on emotional value but on a cold-eyed assessment of market value, pet theft is generally treated as class C misdemeanor -- basically a traffic ticket. "If they'd gone to the pet store pay $250 to adopt it that's one thing, but most of the time they don't have the receipts to do it."
The piece of property in question here is Sid, a 170-pound Leonberger belonging to Jamie and Marian Harris. Last year, Tierce told the family the dog had a degenerative spinal defect and would have to be killed. Earlier this year, they learned he was still alive, allegedly so that Tierce could harvest its blood. The Tarrant County District Attorney's Office has declined to comment on the case, and the family's attorney hasn't returned a phone call, so it's hard to tell how prosecutors and a grand jury assessed Sid as being worth $1,500 to $20,000. But even if they can prove the dollar value, Trimble says there's another potential wrinkle: If the Harrises gave Tierce the OK to kill Sid, then does that amount to legal admission that he had no value?
The misapplication of fiduciary property also seems like another tricky one, if only because it's typically reserved for sticky-fingered estate executors and the like rather than misbehaving vets. No matter. The indictment is quite eloquent, saying that Tierce:
... on or about the 23rd day of April, 2014, did then and there intentionally or knowingly misapply property, to-wit: a dog, of the value of $1,500 or more, but less than $20,000, that the said defendant held as a fiduciary or as a person acting as a fiduciary, but not as a commercial bailee, contrary to an agreement under which the said defendant held the property, or in a manner than involved substantial risk of loss to the owner of said property.
In any case, the wheels of justice are turning. The terrible irony is that they wouldn't be if Tierce had just killed the dog like he said he was going to.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.
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