Court pardons dog
Court of Appeals overturns local ruling to spare animal’s life — at least for now
ALPENA — A deep, insistent bark staccatoed from the front room of a tucked-away house across from a corn field.
A dog’s narrow snout pressed against the glass of one window, white teeth flashing beneath intent eyes.
“He’s a good dog,” Katrina Kramer, the dog’s owner, said. “I wish he wasn’t such a barker, but what are you going to do? That’s his personality. All dogs have different personalities, but I think he’s good.”
The dog, a 6-year-old German shepherd named Bruiser, was the center of a court case that started with a bite, moved past two orders of euthanization, and made its way to the Michigan Court of Appeals, which last week spared Bruiser’s life, at least for now.
In May 2017, Bruiser bit a man. Owners Kramer and Thomas Mainville’s cornfield-lined country road in rural Herron sees frequent walkers and joggers, most of whom have been introduced to the big dog, Kramer said. An enthusiastic animal, he regularly goes to the road to investigate passersby, poking their hands with his nose and barking his throaty bark with an energetic bounce. The neighbors know to expect Bruiser when they pass, and, Kramer said, she calls out a warning to let them know he’s nearby and will probably make his presence known.
That May day in 2017 was only different, Mainville said, because the jogger — neighbor Joshua Henderson, who had passed the house many times before — was wearing headphones.
The owners called out to alert Henderson that Bruiser was coming up behind him, Kramer said, but Henderson didn’t hear the warning. The dog, nosing in as usual, took Henderson by surprise. Startled, Henderson reacted with an arm motion that put the dog on the defensive, and, Mainville recounted, he bit.
Henderson declined to comment for this story.
The wounds were not life-threatening, but did send Henderson to the hospital. Because medical professionals are required by law to report animal bites, Bruiser’s attack found its way to Alpena’s 88th District Court.
Attempting to meet requirements of the court, Kramer and Mainville had Bruiser sterilized and agreed to build an enclosure that would be inspected by animal control authorities.
The court ruled that, despite those measures, the dog presented a future threat and needed to be euthanized.
The decision by Judge Thomas LaCross reasoned that the dog met the qualifications for a dangerous animal, which, according to state law, meant that it had to be destroyed.
“If tomorrow that animal goes out and injures or kills a child, you and I and everybody else here, how would we feel? See? How would we feel? I can’t take that risk because we know,” LaCross said, according to court records.
Frantic at the thought that their dog would be euthanized, Kramer and Mainville called Alpena defense attorney Michelle Elowski, pleading for help. They were unable to pay an attorney fee, but Elowski, herself a dog owner, was moved by their plight and decided to handle the case pro bono.
Securing a reprieve for the dog through an early morning request to a judge on the day of the planned euthanization, Elowski appealed LaCross’s decision to the 26th Circuit Court. The District Court decision was allowed to stand, but with another delay of sentence so the matter could be appealed.
The Court of Appeals, in an opinion released July 2, said that Bruiser’s having bitten once, wasn’t evidence enough that he was likely to bite again. The appellate judges sent the case back to District Court to be reheard based on the parameters laid out in the Court of Appeals decision.
“I think we all know someone with a dog that bit somebody that wasn’t a bad dog,” Elowski said. “If we follow the reasoning of Judge LaCross, then every dog that bites somebody should be killed. And that’s not what the law says.”
The decision in District Court was made, LaCross said in his ruling, to protect people from the potential of future harm. That’s an argument that is understandable, Kramer said, but there are other ways to help humans be safe around dogs.
“I can see that,” Kramer said of LaCross’s ruling. “You do have to kind of protect people. But some people also do have to kind of learn.”
She remembers days of television spots and public safety officers in schools that used to teach children to not run from dogs, not act afraid, not make aggressive movements.
The menacing teeth in the front window, on a rainy Thursday afternoon two years after he led his owners to court and a week after a high court issued him a pardon, dissolved into a prancing, woofing, curious, 130-pound package of tail-wagging black and brown, a big dog who snuggles with his owner and greets visiting children with dog kisses.
At first a vocal, high-maintenance dog, fearful and suspicious, Bruiser has mellowed and learned to be trusting, Mainville said.
“I know he has potential — all dogs do,” Kramer said. “You’ve got to give some dogs chances, just like humans. Everybody needs a chance. I can’t see just giving up on somebody. Or on an animal.”
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or firstname.lastname@example.org.