In March, Marion Co passed a dangerous dog ordinance. At the end of that month, the county seized Sandra Shaw’s Siberian Husky, called Ulu, under this ordinance. Ulu had accidentally escaped his fenced yard and, as the owner was not home at the time, two family members went out looking for him. Two witnesses in the neighborhood saw Ulu wandering loose and ultimately saw him kill a cat who was also outside unattended. A court case over the custody and status of Ulu ensued.
Ms. Shaw wanted to keep Ulu at home pending the outcome of the dangerous dog investigation but the county denied that request basically stating that she might not be able to confine the dog properly. Her lawyer countered that “county officials cannot prove, have not shown, or even have a procedure to show, how Shaw lacks the ability to control her pet”. In fact, she had ample ability to contain Ulu, as will become evident.
The county also denied the owner’s request to visit Ulu at the shelter because she might spread disease to other dogs there. Her lawyer countered that the county allows potential adopters to visit with dogs at the shelter and Ms. Shaw would be limiting her contact to her own dog.
The county was charging Ms. Shaw $15 a day to keep Ulu. They did offer Ms. Shaw a way to take Ulu home – accept the dangerous dog classification for her dog, waive her rights to challenge it, and pay all the fees including a $250 dangerous dog registration fee. Her attorney countered that by denying visitation, the county was trying to force owners to give up their rights and pay the fees, which were a source of revenue for the county.
During the legal process, Ulu was declared a dangerous dog under the ordinance. The owner’s attorney requested, and was granted, permission for the owner to take Ulu home during the appeal process, and on July 20, the dangerous dog classification was vacated by a judge. The transcript from the hearing upon which the judge made his decision is here (pdf). If you’re a legal buff, or someone concerned about your rights as a pet owner, it’s very interesting reading.
The lawyer pokes all kinds of holes in how AC handled the matter from start to finish, failing to follow their own procedures to allow for a fair and thorough investigation. They never interviewed Ulu’s owner to see how the dog escaped the yard. This is significant because, not only is it a legal requirement, but had they interviewed the owner, they would have learned there were three fences set up to contain Ulu (and the owner’s other dogs) including a padlocked gate. The padlock was accidentally left unlocked by a family member who was doing yard work and Ulu slipped out. Ulu had never been in trouble with AC before and neighbors didn’t even recognize him.
Also significant is the fact that the owner of the cat was never advised that by involving AC, there would be a dangerous dog investigation. Further, the cat’s owner did not want the dog declared dangerous, didn’t believe him to be dangerous and considered the entire matter to be an unfortunate accident. Had the cat’s owner been aware that Ulu was a neighborhood pet, she testified that she would have handled the matter differently and simply settled things in a neighborly way.
Finally, there is the issue of provocation. The county was seemingly ignorant of their own ordinance which specified that a dog could be declared dangerous only if it killed another pet “unprovoked”. Since neither of the witnesses who saw Ulu kill the cat witnessed the beginning of the altercation, there was no way to know what had happened. The attorney offered some plausible scenarios – that perhaps Ulu had approached the cat in a friendly manner but the cat had arched her back or hissed or swatted the dog’s nose. Since there were no witnesses, this information was unknowable but the county ignored this fact in proceeding with the dangerous dog designation.
I admit at first blush, my reaction to this case was “Dog kills cat – meh” but when I got into the details, my interest increased immensely. To my mind, the county’s actions can be described as nothing short of an attempt to railroad everyone involved into having Ulu declared dangerous and getting the fees paid.
For example, testimony reveals the the ACO received noticed of the first hearing a week in advance but didn’t notify the owner until the day before. That notification came in the form of a note taped to the door which said the hearing was tomorrow and if you can’t make it, you need to provide at least 2 days advanced notice. When the owner’s attorney contacted the ACO to say they needed sufficient time to prepare and requested the case file, he received an e-mail reply including the case file just minutes before 5pm with notice that he must respond before the end of the day.
That’s just one example. The transcript is full of that kind of funny business. While I’m delighted that Ulu’s owner was able to hire an attorney to fight these shenanigans in court, I fear that many dog owners, myself included, would be unable to do so. I wonder how much ransom money the county will be able to extort from owners desperate to get their dogs back under this ordinance. Or worse, how many dogs might be killed because the owners are unable to pay the fees.
Shame on Marion Co. Their shelter is closed on Sundays and Mondays and only open from 10am to 5:30pm the rest of the week. Instead of wasting months worth of time and resources on cases such as Ulu’s, maybe they could devote some of those resources toward keeping the shelter open during the days and hours the public is most likely able to get there. Or fix the kennel cam so that taxpayers can see how their money is being spent caring for all the pets at the shelter and not just one dog. I have other ideas too, less fit for print.
Thank you to reader Susan for alerting me to this story.