Arbutus man avoids prison after dog dies of hypothermia in case that sparked viral outrage

Arbutus man avoids prison after dog dies of hypothermia in case that sparked viral outrage
A man signs a petition calling for stronger animal abuse laws in Baltimore County at an Arbutus vigil for a dog named Oscar on Jan. 14, after a Facebook post alleging that the dog died because its owner left it outside in the cold went viral. (Libby Solomon/Arbutus Times)

An Arbutus man reached a plea deal and avoided prison time in an animal cruelty case that captured the attention of many in the area and spurred the passage of a county law.

On Monday in Baltimore County District Court, Selvin Gnanakkan, 43, entered an Alford plea to one count of animal cruelty for failure to provide shelter to a dog, prosecutors said Tuesday. An Alford plea is a guilty plea in criminal court where the defendant asserts innocence but admits the prosecutor would likely be able to convince a judge or jury of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.


Gnanakkan was charged with failing to provide his dog, Oscar, with veterinary care, proper nutrition and shelter. He was also charged with making false reports to police officers who were investigating Oscar’s death.

Oscar, a Chow Chow mix, died between Dec. 30, 2017, and Jan. 1, 2018, and a necropsy showed the dog died from hypothermia.

Gnanakkan’s plea resulted in him being found guilty, but because he was given probation before judgement so he was not convicted, his defense attorney, Andrew I. Alperstein, said Tuesday.

The plea deal includes 6 months unsupervised probation, paying a $500 fine and paying $2,260 for forensic veterinary services. Gnanakkan is also barred from possessing animals for three years, prosecutors said.

Alperstein said Gnanakkan cared for Oscar “a great deal” and that he was traveling at the time Oscar died. Others who were supposed to be watching the dog for Gnanakkan did not do what they said they would, Alperstein said, but as the owner, responsibility ultimately fell on him.

He was facing up to 90 days in prison and a $1,000 fine for each of three counts of animal cruelty, an up to six months in prison and a $500 fine for both counts of making false statements to police.

Adam Lippe, who heads the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Animal Abuse Unit, said previously that Oscar showed signs of malnourishment — including visible ribs and muscle wasting. Oscar’s most recent rabies certified had expired in 2016, indicating the dog had not been to a veterinarian recently.

Lippe could not immediately be reached for comment.

Oscar’s death created a viral outrage online in January, and a group of about 70 people gathered one cold evening for a memorial for the dog.

It also spurred the Baltimore County Council to pass Oscar’s Law, a rule that requires pets to be brought indoors within 30 minutes of the onset of “adverse environmental conditions.” The bill also clarified that either animal control officers or police officers can investigate claims of animal cruelty.

Reports of animal abuse can be directed to the Baltimore County Police Department animal abuse unit by calling 410-887-5901.

Gnanakkan had been scheduled for a trial by jury in January, according to online court records.

Gnanakkan did not make any statements in court, Alperstein said.