A female pit bull owned by Philadelphia Eagles' running back Bryce Brown — along with the seven puppies she recently produced in a Wisconsin breeding kennel called Northland Pits — was released on Friday to Sheila Kessler, a Stevens Point, Wis., attorney who represented Brown, 22, and his wife, Morgan.
The owner of Northland Pits, Joseph Sudbrink, was arrested and charged with mistreating animals and running a breeding kennel without a license. The arrest resulted from an investigation of his rural Fall Creek property by the Eau Claire County Humane Association on May 21. Twenty-seven dogs were seized at that time, including Brown’s dog, Eilis, and her pups.
Kessler had argued that her client is a victim, and the value of the puppies decrease the longer they are held.
“It’s a lot easier to sell eight-week-old puppies than it is to sell eight-month-old puppies,” Kessler told Eau Clarie Eau Claire County Judge Michael Schumacher, according to the Leader Telegram.
Although the judge ordered Brown’s dog and her litter to be returned to him, no action was taken concerning the 19 other dogs — mainly pit bulls — which remain in the custody of the Eau Claire County Humane Association.
Sudbrink claims that he was targeted by a humane officer. In a petition filed May 28 seeking the return of the dogs, Sudbrink said he thinks the animals were removed because Bekah Weitz, the humane officer for the Eau Claire County Humane Association, believed they were fighting dogs.
Judge Schumacher told Sudbrink, who operates Northland Pits Kennel at E19252 Scenic Drive, Fall Creek, at a second hearing, “I think we need to wait and see what happens in five [business] days.”
Sudbrink was arrested Friday between two court hearings — the first before Judge Paul Lenz and then later in front of Judge Michael Schumacher — on preliminary charges of mistreating animals and operating as a dog breeder without a license, and a criminal investigation is continuing, said Sarra Kiaie, assistant district attorney, the Leader Telegram reports.
At the earlier hearing that day, Judge Lenz had ordered the dogs to be returned to Sudbrink within five business days — or by the end of the day July 8 — unless a criminal complaint is issued with reasonable grounds to believe he has mistreated the animals.
Weitz told Schumacher during the hearing in his court that one of her concerns was that the dogs “were being trained for fighting.” When the dogs were seized, she said she saw scarring on seven animals that led her to this conclusion.
Some of the dogs also had contracted ringworm and possibly other skin issues, Weitz said, noting that they were living in substandard housing — houses without bottoms — in moist conditions.
Weitz said she also saw goats and sheep on the farm property and had some concern about those animals, but none of them were seized on May 21 when the pit bulls and bull terriers were removed, according to the Leader Telegram.
HOW DID BRYCE BROWN’S PIT BULL END UP IN AN ALLEGEDLY UNLICENSED BREEDING KENNEL?
Bryce and Morgan Brown did not appear in court Friday, the report states, but in an affidavit filed with the court, Bryce claims that he purchased Eilis in 2010, and the dog has been a pet. He sent her to Northland Pits for stud services in February. After a week, she was returned to Brown in Wichita, Kan.
Shortly before the birth of her puppies, Eilis returned to Northland Pits where Sudbrink offered to whelp and wean the pups for Brown, who knew little about that, according to the affidavit.
The dog and her pups were then seized, along with the others, when a search warrant was executed on May 21.
According to the Northland Pits Kennel website, it is located in Wisconsin about two hours west of Minneapolis. The site claims to “usually only breed a couple of litters a year” but then says it has puppies for sale in 47 states and Canada. It describes the dogs as “Old Family Red Nosed American Pit Bull Terriers.”
It also claims they breed dogs that excel at “hog catch,” which is a gruesome activity in which several specially bred and trained pit bulls chase and kill a wild pig weighing hundreds of pounds — often done for “sport." The dogs are frequently seriously injured or killed themselves.
Notable on the Northland Pits Kennel website page of “ancestors” are photos of many famous fighting dogs with bloodlines such as Corvino, Colby and Tudor.
HUMANE ASSOCIATION OPPOSES RELEASE OF BROWN’S DOGS
Attorney Ron Poquette, who represented the Eau Claire County Humane Association at the hearing in Schumacher’s courtroom, argued against the release of any dogs.
“At this point, they are still part of the investigation,” he said.
Both judges expressed concern over the dogs continuing to be held.
“These are living things," Lenz said. "You can’t just sit on this."
Lenz ordered the state to release an inventory of the items seized on May 21 to Sudbrink by July 8. Schumacher asked Bilski and Poquette to submit briefs detailing how criminal charges may impact his decision by July 12 and said he would issue a ruling likely the following week.
Attorney Sheila Kessler is listed on the Humane Society of Portage County board of directors. She picked up the Browns’ dog and puppies from the Eau Claire County Humane Association on Friday before leaving town, reports the Leader Telegram.
On the Northland Pits homepage, a statement has been posted: “Northland Pits has absolutely nothing to do with animal cruelty, or dog fighting. These allegations are absolutely absurd, and ridiculous. This is simply another case of the humane society trying to shut down another breeder.”
IN THE SHADOW OF THE MICHAEL VICK CASE
It has been just four year since the Eagles signed quarterback Michael Vick after his release from federal prison for operating a brutal dog fighting ring. It is natural for the public to be drawn back into those dark hours of horrific revelations about Bad Newz Kennels. Brown is using social media to try to distance himself from that stigma.
On his Eagles bio page, Brown explains he bought Eilis in Canada because he could not find a "pure, pure" breed in the United States. He also said he "has a passion for all animals" and is a hands-on trainer.
According to PhillyDawg, Brown posted a recent video of himself on his Facebook page training a dog to jump in the air to grab a stuffed toy hung from a tree.
BRYCE BROWN DEFENDS NORTHLAND PITS
Brown contends that Northland Pits was the victim in all of this and there was no dog fighting operation in place or any wrongdoing, reports Fansided.com, which provides Brown’s statement from his Twitter account:
“My dog was returned to me quickly because it was obvious that she is not and never has been involved with dog fighting. Northland Pits is a respectable breeder which has unfortunately been the target of anti-breeding groups and 'animal rights,' activists who know nothing about what he is doing there, and assume it is related to dog fighting due to the breed of the dogs. He is a victim in this case, just as I am. He takes great care of his dogs and Eilis wouldn’t have been breeding there otherwise.”