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Santa Rosa man sentenced on felony animal abuse conviction

A Santa Rosa man who abandoned his injured dog, forcing doctors to amputate its leg, was sentenced Monday to four months in jail.

Ronald McKnight, 37, a Coast Guard petty officer, will be allowed to serve his sentence on work release or electronic home confinement, Judge Julie Conger said.

She handed down the punishment, which includes three years of probation, after denying McKnight’s request to reduce his felony animal abuse conviction to a misdemeanor.

The ruling drew cheers from a courtroom audience packed with animal welfare activists, some of whom held up signs demanding McKnight be sent to prison and others urging “Justice for Daphne.”

The 1½-year-old McNab mix was also in court. She stood at the end of a leash held by her new owner, veterinarian Dan Famini, as the sentence was announced.

“I’m so glad it was upheld,” Famini said as he walked the dog in the hallway afterward amid jubilant supporters.

McKnight, clad in a crisp white dress shirt and black pants, said nothing during the proceeding. At previous hearings, he wore his blue Coast Guard uniform.

His lawyer, Gene Gordon, told the judge his client’s 13-year military career would be jeopardized by the felony conviction because he can no longer carry a gun. Gordon asked for a reduction based on what he said was Mc-?Knight’s remorse, volunteer work and lack of a criminal record.

“He is sorry for what happened,” Gordon said. “He thinks about this matter every day.”

But prosecutor Bill Brockley accused Mc-Knight of “cloaking himself in the American flag” to get leniency. He called his behavior callous and inhumane and asked for an eight-month jail sentence.

The prosecutor said McKnight, who makes $74,000 a year, lied about being too broke to treat Daphne when the dog ?suffered a broken leg last year. 

A neighbor paid $3,000 to have her leg fixed, only to have McKnight abandon the dog in the Sonoma Valley when he could not cope with aftercare, Brockley said.

The dog was on her own for several weeks before she was discovered, emaciated and in poor health, in a remote area off Nuns Canyon Road. Her left rear leg had become infected and had to be amputated to save her life.

McKnight, who lied that he gave the dog to an unspecified North Coast clinic, was in the process of adopting a new dog when he was identified as Daphne’s owner.

He was held to answer after a preliminary hearing and later agreed to settle the case without a trial.

Earlier this year, the judge indicated she would consider reducing his charge to a misdemeanor. But she said after looking into the details of his offense, it would stand as a felony.

Among the conditions of his punishment are that he may not own any animal, “dogs in particular,” the judge said.

“I find the conduct so egregious that it must remain a felony,” Conger said to shouts of approval from the audience.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.

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