Legal fight over dogs goes to state Court of Appeals

News Photo by Julie Riddle Three Michigan Court of Appeals judges, top, hear oral argument from attorney Matt Wojda, bottom left, and Presque Isle County Prosecutor Ken Radzibon, bottom right, in this screenshot of a videoconferenced court hearing on Wednesday.

ROGERS CITY — A Presque Isle County legal battle over two dogs accused of mauling a horse made its way to the Michigan Court of Appeals last week.

Local attorneys appeared virtually before three appeals court judges for oral arguments regarding two American bulldogs. Within several weeks, the judges will decide whether to let stand a local court’s decision to euthanize the dogs or if the case should be sent back to the lower court for reconsideration.

The dogs have been housed at an animal shelter since they were found in October 2019 in a Presque Isle County barn, one stall from a horse suffering badly from extensive wounds a veterinarian testified were caused by an animal attack.

Because of the extent of the horse’s injuries, the owners decided the horse should be euthanized, according to court records.

Alpena attorney Matt Wojda, representing one of the dog’s owners, and Presque Isle County Prosecutor Ken Radzibon answered questions from the higher court judges on Wednesday as part of an appeal of the decision of Judge Maria Barton, in Presque Isle County’s 89th District Court, to euthanize the dogs.

Judge Amy Krause, echoing one of Wojda’s arguments, questioned whether both dogs should be euthanized without proof both engaged in an attack.

Were both dogs human, the court’s response would be different, Krause suggested.

“Do we execute both people with the death penalty,” Krause said, “and we don’t know who did what?”

If the dogs were people and only one actually attacked the horse, the other would likely be charged with aiding and abetting the crime, suggested Judge Mark Boonstra, who raises horses on a farm near Holland, according to his Facebook page.

“To my knowledge, there isn’t any kind of accomplice liability for dogs,” Wojda countered. “Nor is there any evidence that there was an attempt to aid and abet by the other dog.”

According to the executive director of the Cheboygan County Humane Society, where the dogs are housed, one of the dogs can be handled by shelter employees, but the other is aggressive and a danger to workers.

While state law clearly delineates what happens when a dog attacks a human, an attack on another animal leaves more gray area in which a judge may exercise his or her discretion, Judge Jane Beckering noted.

The dogs didn’t destroy the horse — thereby skirting the language of state law regarding dogs’ destruction of property — because its owners chose to euthanize it, Wojda told the judges. Radzibon called Wojda’s argument ridiculous, saying the only alternative was to allow the horse to suffer.

A bill introduced to the Legislature in June would, if passed, require a judge to order euthanization of a dog that caused severe injury or death to a person or a domestic animal. Owners of a dog not proven to have severely injured another animal but still considered dangerous would be ordered to follow multiple safety precautions, including identifying the dog with a tag reading “Dangerous dog” in large letters, according to the proposed legislation.

Krause, who repeatedly interrupted Radzibon as he attempted to present his arguments, said the bill was irrelevant to the Presque Isle County case. That bill is currently before a Senate committee.

Following the horse’s mauling, Barton required the dogs’ owner to pay $4,440 in boarding expenses to delay the ordered euthanization while Wojda appealed the ruling.

In April, Barton said the owner must pay another $25,000 to keep the dogs alive pending the Court of Appeals ruling. Wojda filed an emergency motion with the appellate court successfully fighting the additional expense, according to the attorney.

As of May, Presque Isle County has paid $21,000 to the Cheboygan County Humane Society for the dogs’ care, with an additional $1,800 per following month promised to the shelter until the appeals court decision.


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