A DuPage County judge acquitted a Pennsylvania man Wednesday of charges he drugged a Siberian husky at a dog show in Wheaton to get a leg up on the competition.
Supporters of 68-year-old Ralph Ullum, of Claysville, Pa., erupted in sobs of joy after Judge Ronald Sutter found the defendant not guilty of animal cruelty, attempted animal cruelty and attempted criminal damage to property, all misdemeanors.
Sutter said the defense raised a reasonable doubt when it questioned why Ullum would give a prescription antacid to a rival's dog when a host of other drugs would have done more to torpedo the competition.
"Frankly, an antacid is not on that list," Sutter said.
After he was acquitted, Ullum turned to his attorney, Edward Maloney, and shook his hand. Then he turned to three reporters in the courtroom and said: "Now all you parasites can go do what you do." He declined further comment.
Prosecutors alleged Ullum drugged a Siberian husky named Pixie because his girlfriend had competed against Pixie's owners at shows for years and he wanted her dog to win.
Pixie's handler, Jessica Plourde of New York, testified she first became suspicious that Pixie had been tampered with when she arrived for an American Kennel Club show at the DuPage Fairgrounds in December 2010. That morning, she said, she discovered a pink powdery substance that resembled Benadryl on and around Pixie's crate.
Hours later, two people told Plourde they saw Ullum feed something -- possibly chicken -- to her dog. She then found part of a pill marked Protonix in Pixie's cage. Another chunk of the pill was discharged, along with a piece of chicken, when a veterinarian induced Pixie to vomit.
Veterinarians who testified at Ullum's three-day trial said some dog handlers use Benadryl to help their pooches calm down before a showing. Protonix, a prescription-strength antacid, could have prevented Pixie from becoming nauseous, they said.
Both Plourde and Ullum denied giving the dog any medication that morning. Ullum said he did stop at Pixie's crate, and the dog licked his fingers, which were sticky from having just eaten a chocolate glaze doughnut.
Police said they also found a plastic sandwich bag with chicken remnants in the men's bathroom, along with a paper towel containing a powdery substance. Ullum said he challenged the officers to test the bag for fingerprints. But no tests were done because of a backlog at the state crime lab, a police officer testified.
The pink substance was never identified.
In delivering the verdict, Sutter said prosecutors presented "good circumstantial evidence" but ultimately did not prove Ullum guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Maloney said Ullum is a nearly lifelong dog owner and retired Air Force veteran who served his country for 40 years.
"It just didn't make sense that Mr. Ullum would do what the state accused him of doing given his background," Maloney said.
Pixie was not seriously hurt. Plourde said neither dog won the competition, but Ullum maintained his girlfriend's dog won points over Pixie that could affect their national rankings.
The American Kennel Club suspended Ullum earlier this year after its own hearing. It wasn't immediately clear what, if any, effect his acquittal could have on the suspension, which bars him from assisting his girlfriend at AKC dog shows for five years.