John Zeits Jr. slit his dog's throat and stabbed it in the head. The mutt had just bitten Zeits' 16-month-old daughter in the face, and he wanted it dead before he and his wife took their child to an emergency room.
But Max, a spaniel-type mixed breed, crawled out of the concrete cylinder where Zeits said he had left the animal. Frantic passer-by Suzanne Andreas rushed the bleeding dog to a veterinarian, who saved his life.
Zeits, 24, an Odenton contractor, is on trial in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, appealing his July convictions in District Court on charges of animal cruelty and mutilation. After a day of testimony yesterday, the case is scheduled to go to the nine-man, three-woman jury today.
Zeits testified yesterday that he attempted to kill the dog to protect his child and others, that slitting Max's throat was a humane means and that a quick and relatively painless death, not cruelty, was what he intended. It was how he was taught to slaughter animals during the two years he spent on an Eastern Shore farm, he said.
The 7-inch-long cut missed the dog's jugular vein, which would have been a fatal wound.
In an unsuccessful attempt to get the case dismissed, Zeits' lawyer, Emory E. Tamplin Jr., argued yesterday before Judge Clayton Greene Jr. that state law does not forbid animal owners from killing their animals.
The law applies to livestock, not pets, countered Michael J. Dunty, assistant state's attorney. The prosecutor said Zeits attacked the dog in anger - Zeits said "maybe" he acted in rage - taking his utility knife not only to its throat, but also five times to the dog's head and trying to break its neck.
The scrawny stray jumped into Zeits' truck one day at a 7-Eleven. Zeits said he was enthusiastic about adopting the mutt and nursed him back to health. He couldn't believe that it snapped at his wife, Dawn, and daughter, Heather, he said.
Max, at the animal shelter while the case has been in the courts, has drawn interest. Neither prosecutors nor animal control officials want Max returned to his owner.