Officials seek options as support for seized pit bulls swells

LANSING, MICH. - Ingham County officials are exploring an arrangement that might allow at least some of the dogs seized in a local dogfighting investigation to escape euthanasia as their fate draws growing nationwide attention.

A civil hearing Friday on a county request to euthanize nine of the 53 dogs seized in the probe was adjourned because one of the two owners of the dogs had changed attorneys and the other owner was unrepresented.

But attorneys for both sides indicated they are open to an arrangement in which the dogs would be forfeited to the county under an animal cruelty statute rather than the state's dogfighting statute. Both owners face criminal charges in connection with dogfighting.

That would give the court the option of having the dogs independently examined  to determine whether they could be saved, they said.

54A District Judge Frank DeLuca rescheduled the hearing for Sept. 6.

As of Friday, nearly 100,000 people from across the country had signed a petition opposing a quick death for the nine dogs allegedly owned by Corey Devon Henry and his daughter, Synquiss Tairee-Devon Antes.

Michigan law currently mandates animal control officers to request a court hearing to determine the fate of a dog seized for animal fighting.

If a judge finds that a dog "lacks any useful purpose and poses a threat to public safety" it will be euthanized.

Christy Lawrence, of East Lansing, hopes to help prevent that from happening.

Lawrence said she and other pit bull advocates had hoped to present a letter and a change.org petition to prosecutors and DeLuca at Friday's hearing.

The petition had about 5,000 signatures two weeks ago, but this week exploded in popularity, jumping from fewer than 20,000 signatures to more than 99,000 by Friday afternoon.

In addition to online support from animal advocacy groups such as "Save the Lansing Michigan Pit Bulls," the campaign was boosted when rhythm and blues singer Avery Storm tweeted a link to the petition on Monday.

Storm, who has been featured in hit songs by artists such as Rick Ross and Nelly, has about 20,000 Twitter followers.

Lawrence said the group hopes DeLuca will order that the dogs be individually evaluated for possible rehabilitation and possible future adoption.

Bad Rap, a pit bull advocacy group that helped rehabilitate dogs seized as part of the dogfighting case against former NFL player Michael Vick, could help evaluate the dogs, she said.

"The Capital Area Humane Society is also very well versed in these types of assessments because some of their staff was trained by Bad Rap," she said.

Despite the law requiring a petition for euthanization, Lawrence said some dogs seized from dogfighing operations have gone one to be therapy dogs and family dogs.

"It can be done," she said. "There's no need to have a blanket euthanization on these dogs, it's ridiculous."

►More on LSJ: 2 charged as investigation into 'professional' dogfighting ring expands

On Friday, DeLuca said communications from the public regarding the dogs have been delivered to his office. He said he will not review those materials and will make his determination based solely on the evidence.

At least three people have been charged in connection with the dogfighting investigation, which began last spring and has led to the seizure of at least 53 dogs in Ingham and Eaton counties.

Henry, 47, and Antes, 26, face numerous felony counts, including animal fighting and possession of fighting animals or equipment. A hearing to determine whether they should stand trial on those charges is set for late September.

Demarius Hoyle, 22, also been charged with one count of dogfighting, according to court records. While a felony warrant has been signed, Hoyle has not yet been arraigned on the charge. 

It's unclear whether any dogs were seized from Hoyle, or whether anyone else will be charged in connection with what officials have described as a "professional" dogfighting ring. 

Ingham County Animal Control Director John Dinon has said he expected officials eventually will ask to euthanize all of the seized dogs because the dogfighting law essentially requires it. 

"Michigan law leaves us with very limited options," he Dinon. 

State lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would give officials the discretion to put dogs seized for animal fighting up for adoption. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill in May, but the Senate has not yet voted on the bill.

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© 2017 Lansing State Journal


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