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Man who shares name with accused puppy killer threatened

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Chris Richards and his dog Bazzle sit outside his family’s home in Lolo while visiting from Bozeman on Tuesday. The Richards family has received some unwarranted attention recently, as Chris was mistaken for another man from Lolo with the same name who has been charged with animal cruelty for killing a puppy. Photo by TOM BAUER/Missoulian

LOLO - Bazzle is a Lab, pit bull and shepherd cross who gets his fair share of doggie treats.

The 8-year-old member of the Richards family has a way of resting his chin on someone's lap after meals, so he gets plenty of table scraps, too. He goes on runs near a lake and can be caught closing his eyes and setting his head on his owner's feet.

It's a happy life, Bazzle's, and Chris Richards, 20, is the dog owner and pet lover largely responsible for the happiness.

So when news came out last week that a "Christopher Michael Richards" - another Chris Richards of Lolo - had been charged with animal cruelty for killing a puppy, the dog-loving family wanted to set the record straight. It's a case of mistaken identity, and according to law enforcement, not an isolated one.

Dennis Richards - the father of Bazzle's owner - heard of the puppy case after he received an unwelcome phone call.

"This guy calls and pretty soon he says I ought to be dumped in a hole," Richards said. "I just felt like this is probably going to gain some traction as this case goes on, so I wanted to try to stop some of this stuff before it went too far."

Said Darlene Richards - the mother of Bazzle's owner: "We started thinking, ‘Oh no. Everybody thinks it's us.' "

Dennis Richards called a radio broadcaster and did a short interview, then reached out to the Missoulian.

"I just want people to know that my son is not the person who did this," he said. "He's always been a dog lover."

And not just dogs, either. In the Richards household, gerbils, hamsters, lizards, chickens, cats, sheep and, really, anything but snakes have been welcome, said Darlene Richards. She herself grew up in a home with exotic animals - even an ostrich - so she encouraged her children to keep pets, too.

"We've always been animal lovers, so it's the furthest thing we would ever do," Darlene Richards said.

But mistaken identity isn't uncommon when people have similar names in the same town, said John Lamb, a detective with the Missoula County Sheriff's Office. And passions rise, especially in animal cruelty cases.

"Some people are nice enough to just call you and tell you what they think of you," Lamb said. "Other people might look you up in a phone book and maybe throw eggs."

In his experience, though, the latter doesn't happen often. More likely, people who are upset will have a knee-jerk reaction, post an angry comment online and move on.

"I think they're just frustrated. They feel bad for kids and animals that can't defend themselves," he said.

Since the Richards family has caller ID, the angry caller got a call back from Dennis Richards. When he called the person who had left him a message to explain, the man didn't sound altogether convinced.

Chris Richards, who will attend Montana State University in the fall and lives in Bozeman, said this isn't the first time he's been mistaken for another person with the same name. Last time, a "Chris Richards" had been charged with driving under the influence.

"I've been kind of curious to meet him," said Bazzle's Chris Richards - of the other man - or men - with the same name.

Chris Richards and Bazzle were home in Lolo on Tuesday, and he and Darlene Richards said they weren't overly worried about their safety. But Darlene said people should cool off and do some research before picking up the phone.

"Get your facts straight before you make threatening phone calls," Darlene Richards said.

At their home, she was the person who introduced Bazzle, whose name is loosely based on Basil from "Austin Powers." Bazzle wandered up to the door, tail high.

"This is our non-abused dog," said Darlene Richards.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, or on


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