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Ellen Barkley, of Brentwood, with her daughter Willow, on Tuesday, shows where her two dogs Luke and Jager, a rottweiler and German shepherd, got out of her Brentwood yard on Saturday. The dogs got out of the yard through some fence boards that were loosened by a stray pit bull, who had gotten into her back neighbor s yard through his side fence and later broke into her yard. Barkley s dogs then escaped and ended up four miles away. The dogs were killed with a shovel by a Brentwood man who said they killed his chickens and turkeys. Barkley, who was not at home at the time, has since repaired her fence. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group Archives)

BRENTWOOD -- The killing of two dogs that strayed onto a rural Brentwood property took an unexpected turn Friday afternoon when county animal control officials confirmed that the homeowner, not his son, shot the pets to protect his chickens and turkeys.

Randy Christ took a gun Saturday morning to the German shepherd and Rottweiler that ventured onto his 3.3-acre parcel, contrary to the story that his son, Jon, originally had told authorities, said Rick Golphin, deputy director of the Contra Costa County Animal Services Department.

"We're satisfied that Jon Christ was not involved in the killing of the dogs, although in an effort to protect his father, Randy, he concocted the story of the beating and the incineration," he said.

Luke and Jager.   (Courtesy of Ellen Barkley)
Luke and Jager. (Courtesy of Ellen Barkley)

Jon Christ initially had said that he dispatched the dogs with a shovel, then burned their bodies -- over a wood fire, not with gasoline as was widely reported -- and buried them at the Byron sand mine where he worked.

The news touched off a widespread and heated debate, with many accusing Christ of animal cruelty and others contending that he was legally entitled to protect his poultry. Brentwood police said that a neighbor of Christ witnessed the dogs killing the chickens.

Animal Services officials agree with those defending Christ: "It is our belief that these actions by Mr. Christ were legally justified due to the circumstances that existed when he encountered the dogs," the department said in a news release issued late Friday.


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Officials said that Jon Christ, thinking that his father would get in trouble for discharging his gun within city limits, tried to protect him by removing the dogs' bodies and assuming the blame for their deaths.

Animal control officers who accompanied Jon Christ to his workplace at first believed that the ashes they found belonged to the animals based on what he had told them, Golphin said.

His department since has determined that although Jon Christ loaded the dogs' bodies in his truck and took them to his workplace, he neither bludgeoned the dogs nor cremated them and the chickens.

Animal Services recovered both dogs Thursday after an employee at the site found their intact remains along with those of dozens of birds, Golphin said.

Brentwood resident Ellen Barkley, the dogs' owner, said a chain of events beyond her control led to their deaths.

She was out of town early Saturday morning when the pets her daughters were caring for escaped through a hole that a neighbor's dog had created, ending up on Randy Christ's property.

Although some of the public outrage over the pets' violent deaths has been directed at her for failing to keep her dogs confined, Barkley said critics who accuse her of being an irresponsible dog owner are wrong.

"Anybody who knows me knows that's not the case," she said, adding that she regularly checks the perimeter of her yard to ensure the fence is intact.

On Sept. 28, though, a neighbor's dog that had gotten loose found its way through a sizable gap in the side fence of the house directly behind her's, Barkley said, emphasizing that the section of wooden slats runs along the street and thus is not her responsibility.

Once in the yard, the animal began digging and scratching at the back fence that she shares with the family.

The dog eventually dislodged enough boards to squeeze through into her backyard, where it played with her pets before all three disappeared, Barkley said.

Upon her return, she and her friends searched for the pets, gathering tips along the way that led to Randy Christ's house on Creek Road.

Police arrived while they were there, responding to a report of trespassers on the property, and they in turn summoned Animal Services. While en route, officers received word from police dispatch that someone had reported dogs had been shot, said Lt. Doug Silva.

Reached at his home earlier this week, Jon Christ said he had no comment. His father has also not responded to requests for information. But a public relations firm that was handling media calls to Christ's employer confirmed Thursday that the company has terminated him.

Barkley also declined to comment Friday.

Although many have rallied around Barkley, others are defending Randy Christ's actions, citing a state law that allows a person to kill stray dogs that are threatening livestock and poultry.

Among them is Terry Citro, who's had other people's dogs attack her farm animals multiple times over the 27 years she's lived in Oakley.

There was the time that strays got into her rabbits' cages and killed about half a dozen, the time that a Doberman and a boxer engaged in a tug-of-war with her pygmy goat, and the time that she found a couple of dogs nipping at the legs of her 33-year-old horse.

On another occasion, most of the turkeys her daughter was raising as a 4-H project had to be destroyed after a dog yanked them through wire fencing. And an attack by two dogs left her Vietnamese potbellied pig covered with puncture wounds.

So while Citro is sad for Barkley's loss, she also understands Randy Christ's position.

"He's protecting his livestock, and the dogs should not have been loose," she said.

Meanwhile, Animal Services plans to present the facts it's gathered to the District Attorney's Office next week.

That office will determine whether to file criminal charges.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.