LAS VEGAS - On Friday, May 11, Nevada state court Judge Joanna Kishner ruled that Henderson animal control officials can euthanize Onion, the 120-pound Mastiff-Rhodesian Ridgeback dog that killed little Jeremiah Eskew-Shahan at the family’s Henderson home after his first birthday celebration on April 27, 2012.
A Chicago-area rescuer and New York animal group had been granted a temporary injunction to postpone euthanasia until the court had time to hear arguments that the dog should be released to a sanctuary near Denver, Colorado.
Associated Press writer Ken Ritter reported on May 12 that, “Clark County District Judge Joanna Kishner sided with Henderson city attorneys who argued the attack proved the 6-year-old mastiff-Rhodesian ridgeback mix is vicious, and that an uninvited third party with no ties to the family had no legal right to step in to try to save it.” http://abcnews.go.com/US/
The judge opined, "Despite good intentions ... a party cannot just come in and state on their own that they wish to be a party to this case. The court has to follow the law. It's not for me to decide what action Henderson should take."
Not unexpectedly, Lexus Project attorneys announced they want to appeal. Kishner declined to issue a formal order postponing euthanasia pending such appeal, indicating there will be time before her order is written, signed and filed.
Henderson City spokesman Keith Paul issued a statement later saying the dog would remain in the city animal shelter until the order is reviewed by attorneys on both sides and signed. He said the process could take several days, according to abcnews.go.com. http://abcnews.go.com/US/
There was no objection from any parties to Kishner presiding over this case. She had declared from the bench that her family adopts rescued animals and she personally volunteers at a cat shelter, according to chron.com. http://www.chron.com/news/
Protesters on both sides of the issue stood outside with posters that covered the gamut of emotional responses animal cases routinely generate. About a dozen animal-rights advocates who admitted they did not know the Shahan family nor had any contact with Onion waved signs that read, “Don’t Punish the Dog.”
The family of little Jeremiah was not present nor did they have representation at the hearing. The baby’s father, Christopher Shahan, stated earlier that they had been overwhelmed with e-mail from animal activists who blamed the family, not the dog, for Jeremiah’s death.
The boy's grandmother immediately signed ownership and custody of the dog over to city animal control officials after the tragedy and said she would not contest quarantine and euthanasia of the six-year-old dog she had raised from a puppy.
Representatives of the Lexus Project, Chandan Manansingh and Kathy McCarthy, told reporters that they never met the family or the dog but were there at the request of President Robin Mittasch of Oceanside, N.Y. The issue in question on Friday was whether a trust document filed by Mittasch in New York gave her standing to take ownership and custody of the dog.
"Provocation must be viewed from the dog's perspective," Manansingh argued, stating that, “a lifelong family pet now locked up, isolated, scared, lonely and confused would have…a chance at a second chance.”
Kishner listened to attorneys from both sides for 90 minutes before ruling that the trust document didn't establish ownership. She also cited that the New York organization did not follow proper administrative steps with the City before going to state court. Finally she referred to the fact that nothing in the record contested the declaration that the dog was vicious.
Assistant Henderson City Attorney Michael Oh emphasized the vicious-animal finding, stating that, since being held at the city shelter, the 120-pound dog has demonstrated aggression toward other animals and a veterinarian who approached it during quarantine.
Sparing the dog's life "might be something a lot of people in the community might like," the judge said. "It's not something the court has a legal right to do."
ONION’S LAWYERS PLAN TO APPEAL TO THE STATE SUPREME COURT
In a Sunday, May 13, interview, Brian Haynes of the Las Vegas Review Journal writes that activists, led by Richard Rosenthal of the New York Lexus Program, are determined to save Onion. Rosenthal states he is advocating for dogs that aren’t really vicious but have misbehaved—including killing--because of something humans did.
Rosenthal's cites his first case, a greyhound named Lexus in Rhode Island, condemned after it killed a small Pomeranian in a dog park in 2009. The greyhound probably viewed the dog as a rabbit, its traditional prey, Rosenthal contends, “The Pomeranian owner was to blame for allowing the little dog near the larger breeds.”
The Lexus Project is credited by Rosenthal with saving dozens of dogs, including one that killed a neighbor's chickens. All the cases involved bites or the killing of other animals. Onion is his first case involving killing a person. “The boy's family should have been watching more closely or kept the small child away from the big dog altogether,” he told theReview Journal.
PENNSYLVANIA CASE SPURS CONFIDENCE
Supporters are encouraged by a landmark case last month in Pennsylvania involving a husky that killed an infant sitting in his baby seat. The judge in that case agreed to let the dog live at an out-of-state sanctuary where it would have no contact with the public. However, a February 23 article on Pennlive.com shows that a new owner paid $600 and the dog was released to a new home. http://www.pennlive.com/
Coleen Lynn of Dogsbite.org told the Review Journal, “Onion's advocates can't guarantee that the dog [Onion] will never leave the Blue Lion Rescue ranch in Colorado. Once a dog leaves the state, judges and animal control officials rarely keep tabs on its whereabouts or owners, which leads to widespread movement of dangerous dogs from one state to the next," she said.
Onion's lawyers said they would appeal to the state Supreme Court. Rosenthal said he had hoped to come to an agreement with Henderson officials that would free Onion and ensure he never hurt anyone again. But Henderson city officials remained steadfast.
"This dog is vicious because it attacked and killed a 1-year-old baby. We are following the law. We believe this is a public safety issue," animal control spokesman Keith Paul said.
The Lexus Project website states it started as greyhound legal defense but has now expanded to all breeds. The homepage reads, “We are currently in the middle of filing our 501c3…” Each page prominently solicits donations to help with court costs and other fees in their pro-bono dog defense work. http://thelexusproject.org/
A Lexus Project “Model Adoption Contract” (Item 15) is provided under "Legal Resources" for rescuers adopting out dogs. It states in part that an adopter agrees “…to indemnify, defend and hold [adoption agency/individual] harmless from any and all costs, expenses, claims, losses, damages and liabilities whatsoever arising out of any actions or occurrences involving said greyhound...including, but not limited to injuries, death to persons or other animals....” http://thelexusproject.org/