By all accounts, Betty Richardson's Chihuahua, Noah, was a well-loved – some would say spoiled – little dog.
Richardson's mother stayed with Noah each afternoon, so he wouldn't be lonely while Richardson worked. The 5-pound dog had a Coach brand collar, an N.C. State jacket for going out on cool days and a raincoat for wet ones. He had pajamas, too, though Richardson said he rarely wore them.
Noah died Aug. 30, just two months after celebrating his 12th birthday.
Richardson says Noah perished under the thumbprint of a man who lives a few doors down from her home. The neighbor, David Lance Upchurch, acknowledges holding the dog down, but only after he says Noah viciously attacked him and his 100-pound Labrador retriever. He says he did not apply enough pressure to kill Noah, and points to studies that show tracheal collapse is a common medical condition among Chihuahuas.
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Police on Friday charged Upchurch, 37, with cruelty to animals, a misdemeanor. Upchurch, who works in the (Raleigh) News & Observer's information services department, posted a $500 bond.
An autopsy was performed at Rollins Diagnostic Laboratory in Raleigh. Richardson said a veterinarian there told her a thumbprint was found under Noah's fur, where he had been pinned down. The doctor could not be reached Monday.
The incident has fueled tensions in the Raleigh neighborhood where Richardson and Upchurch live. Upchurch has even filed a restraining order against another neighbor he says threatened to shoot him over Noah's death.
Inside her family room, Richardson has fashioned a shrine to Noah. Under a photo of the dog staring into the camera, she wrote, “My sweet boy Noah … R.I.P.” His paw print is embedded in clay, and sympathy cards line a shelf. His cremated ashes are kept in a velvet bag with gold lettering that reads, “Until We Meet Again At The Rainbow Bridge.”
On the day Noah died, Richardson said, she, her mother and the dog were on their front lawn when Upchurch walked up the cul de sac with Sasha, his Labrador retriever. Noah ran to sniff Sasha, and the dogs growled at each other.
Richardson said as she reached to pick up Noah, Upchurch grabbed the dog, flipped him over on his back and held him down while squeezing him between his breastbone and neck with a thumb and forefinger.
Upchurch described the incident as self-defense against a dog attack. He said the unleashed Noah snarled, teeth showing, at him and his 100-pound dog, which he said stood behind him in fear.