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Pennington County Courthouse

Pennington County Courthouse in Rapid City.

What exactly did a Rapid City man spray on his neighbor's dog and does that count as animal abuse?

Those are questions a judge will have to grapple with during an upcoming animal abuse trial. 

Duane Berke, 77, is charged with intentionally killing or injuring an animal — a crime punishable by up to one year in jail — after being accused of pouring starter fluid on a barking dog but never lighting the animal on fire. 

John Rusch, Berke's defense lawyer, said his client has admitted to spraying the dog but with PB B'laster, a lubricant that he says is non-toxic and not listed on any poison lists. 

"It's hard to say you attempted to harm an animal with something that's not toxic," Rusch said. 

Around 9 p.m. on May 25 a man noticed his 10-year-old dog Dakota was barking outside his Rapid City home, according to a police report. When he looked outside. he saw Berke reaching over the fence and pouring starter fluid on Dakota. He yelled at Berke and tried to pull the bottle away until Berke stopped. The man then called 911. 

"The front of the dog's body was wet and smelled overwhelmingly like gasoline," a police officer wrote in her report.

The dog owner, a mechanic, said he was positive the liquid was starter fluid, but Berke told the officer he hadn't poured anything on Dakota, the report says. Berke said someone at his home suggested a way he could deal with Dakota's barking but refused to identify who that person was. 

Berke "was smirking and I was under the impression he was not being honest with me," the officer wrote. 

Dakota was later taken to the veterinarian. 

Berke is scheduled for a one-day bench trial when a judge rather than a jury will decide if the defendant is guilty or innocent on Nov. 14 at the state court in Rapid City. 

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— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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