Dangerous Dog Enforcement Issues Prove Problematic in Grand Traverse County

Previous Deal Regarding Habitual Loose Dogs Leads to More Animal Deaths and Possible Euthanization Order by Grand Traverse County Court

Hachi on Mackinac Bridge. Photo Credit: Joe Kinney's Facebook Page.

Hachi on Mackinac Bridge. Photo Credit: Joe Kinney’s Facebook Page.

Sometimes when something bad happens, it is an unforeseen event that couldn’t have been predicted. However, in the case of a Husky named Hachi and a Golden Chow Mix named Koda, numerous complaints about dead animals and aggressive actions towards neighbors pets were clearly a red flag that if action wasn’t taken, more bad events were sure to happen in the future.

Starting in September of 2015, complaints started piling up from neighbors of Joseph Kinney, the owner of Hachi and Koda. Some were investigated by the Traverse City Police and some involved Grand Traverse County Animal Control. The timeline below is from information from police reports and Animal Control complaints.

On September 27th, 2015, Marlaina Norgan reported to the Traverse City Police that the neighbor’s dog, a Husky, had entered her yard and killed her cat. The dog was located down the street and the owner was issued a ticket. Another witness to the killing said that he was familiar with the dog in question and it had been an on-going issue with the dog roaming the neighborhood quite frequently, usually in the company of a second dog. Neighbors across the road had also seen the two dogs roaming that day and stated that it was an on-going issue. The Police Officer talked to Kinney, who admitted that the night before, his Husky had escaped the fenced in enclosure that surrounds his yard. Kinney also admitted that it had been an on-going issue with the dogs escaping his yard, due to several spots around the yard where the dogs could escape. Kinney was issued a citation for having a dog at large.

On October 2nd, 2015, Grand Traverse County Animal Control Officer Ed Hickey responded to a report about two dogs running loose and chasing a cat. Dogs were seized and taken to Cherryland Humane Society after being caught in another neighbor’s chicken den. Complaints were filed about a loose animal and also killing Nate Davis’s chickens. Kinney received two citations from Grand Traverse County Animal Control for these incidents in Traverse City – one for two dogs being at large (with a notation about killing chickens) and another citation for having no dog licenses.

On October 2nd, 2015, the Traverse City Police responded to dogs at large. One of the dogs was attempting to gain access to Ronald Flaska’s & Jil Johnson’s house through a doggie door. The dog was trying to get to a potbellied pig in the house who had taken refuge in the breezeway. The dog was too large to get through the doggie door and entered into the fenced backyard of the home owner. The second dog was trying to dig under the side of the fence to gain access to the backyard. The homeowner was concerned about the dogs gaining access to his backyard and attempting to murder the pig. Flaska stated that he had other animals in the house and an autistic child who often played in the backyard. The Traverse City Police Officer asked if the homeowner had called animal control and he said no. The Officer said he should immediately call Animal Control and have them investigate. The owner of the dogs was contacted by the Traverse City Police. Kinney said that his fence was not very effective at keeping his dogs in due to the last wind storm creating damage to the side of the fence where the dogs are getting out. He said he was making it a priority to repair the fence to attempt to keep the dogs in the yard.

On October 10th, 2015, a complaint and summons regarding a dangerous animal was filed by Animal Control Manager, Tom Buss, citing on the form that the two dogs destroyed property or habitually caused damage by trespassing on property of a person not the owner.

On November 5th, 2015, there was a Show Cause Hearing with Judge Phillips regarding the incident involving Marlaina Norgan. The hearing was to Show Cause why the dogs should not be destroyed. Both Jil Johnson and former Animal Control Officer Ed Hickey have said that Judge Phillips stated, as an opinion, that the dogs were dangerous and should be destroyed if they got loose again. However, a deal was made and the opinion of Phillips had no bearing on the outcome of the case, nor did it appear in the order that was made. In the order, it was stated that Kinney would pay $171 in restitution to Norgan and $100 to Johnson. He also had to install a kennel constructed on the premises. The order stated that Kinney was to restrain the dogs at all times. However, there were no consequence listed of what would happen if the dogs got loose again or if the order was not followed. There was also information spoken verbally, like the kind of fencing needed, that was not put in the order according to Hickey.

Approximately one week after the Show Cause Hearing, the dogs were loose again and photographed by Norgan. Former Grand Traverse County Animal Control Officer Ed Hickey asked Prosecutor Forsyth if they should pick up the dogs but Forsyth told them to issue the dog’s owner a warning. Animal Control Manager Tom Buss also knew of this decision.

On May 6, 2016, Kinney’s dog Hachi killed a Shih-Tzu in Traverse City which got the media’s attention in print, on TV and on the internet and that caused the public to be interested in the story of the dogs. Both dogs were on the run after that for about a week until they showed up in the Kalkaska Animal Shelter after a homeowner said they killed her chickens and ducks at a home in Fife Lake. The dogs were transferred from Kalkaska to the Cherryland Humane Society in Traverse City who has a contract to hold dogs for Grand Traverse County.

On Friday, May 27th, 2016, Kinney was in court and charged with having a stray dog and allowing a dangerous animal to run at large, both misdemeanors. Following the arraignment, there was a Show Cause hearing to determine whether the two dogs should be euthanized. Deborah Wilson, the owner of the Shih Tzu, took the stand to describe the attack on her dog. Speaking up for the dogs to try to save their lives was Kim Nelson, dog trainer and owner of Bowsers by the Bay.

Pet Friends contacted Nelson about the case and she summarized her testimony in court by responding, “This case has many legal and moral facets that not only impact Hachi and Kodda, but dogs throughout the state of Michigan. The wording of the current statutes perpetuates the idea that owners bear no responsibility in their dog’s behavior.

First and foremost, it is without question that the owners were irresponsible in providing adequate containment, exercise and training for the dogs. Combine that with the fact that neither dog is spayed/neutered and you have the perfect storm. These dogs have never been given a chance to live in a well-managed home. Plain and simple – Hachi is a 13-month old puppy that needs to learn boundaries with someone who understands (and can provide for) his physical and mental exercise, and someone who understand the type of containment required. Huskies need stellar containment when not being watched. If they can’t jump over the fence, they’ll dig their way out. The reality is that these dogs were doing what all dogs hard-wired with a strong prey drive will do. Huskies, in particular, are known for their penchant to hunt small animals. A dog with a strong prey drive will not differentiate between a cat, dog, squirrel or rabbit. And having a strong prey drive to hunt small animals does NOT equate to being a risk to humans. Some dog breeds have a stronger drive than others and it is up to the owners to manage and train their dog not to act on their instincts. Some will say that you cannot ‘train the prey drive out of an animal’ and that is correct. You can, however, teach a dog to temper their instincts.”

Nelson has started an online petition to save the dogs here.

Jil Johnson, the owner of the potbellied pig, has mixed emotions on the current situation. She says, “The first time I saw Hachi and Koda flying down my driveway, I thought ‘awww, what cute dogs!’ The next time I saw them, they were in my yard, trying to eat my pig, Violet. Koda had knocked down the fence and had Violet cornered in our entryway, inches away from the doggy door and Koda’s gnashing jaws. I did not think they were so cute then.

For the past year, I have had to worry about these dogs. Are they going to jump their fence and come running down our driveway again? Walks down the block stopped as I had to drive Violet to safer locations for our outings. I couldn’t leave her in the yard, especially if I had to leave the property. She had to stay locked in the house. My family members and I had to coordinate our comings and goings to accommodate Violet as we couldn’t safely leave her alone in the yard, even with the doggy door. On several occasions I would drive by the dogs yard to make sure they were inside.”

Johnson, disillusioned by the lack of seriousness taken by the authorities about the situation in her neighborhood, continues, “The dogs had been picked up repeatedly by Animal Control only to be given back to the owner, unscathed by Animal Control’s “three strike” rule. The dogs escape loopholes as easily as they escape their yard. That was the frustrating part. I am not angry with the dogs or the dog’s owner. Many pet owners find themselves in the position of being ill suited for their pet of choice. What disturbs me is how easily it was for those dogs to return home, only to repeat their destructive behavior. On the first court date, Judge Phillips ordered the dogs destroyed if there was even one more incident. There was an incident a week after that court date. And then another one. I can’t count the number of times those dogs have been given ‘one more chance’. I have been in touch with Animal Control over the last year and have been kept up to date on the details. I decided that I just couldn’t be angry about this anymore and had a conversation with the owner of the dogs in the hopes of coming up with a solution. I offered to help work with the dogs. This situation should have been managed long ago. Repeatedly giving ‘one more chance’ has not served the community well. It certainly has not helped Hachi or Koda either. Animal Control did a good job. The problem seems to lie with the justice system.”

(Editor’s Note: There was no official three strike rule that was a policy with the county but the Animal Control Officers would use it as a general rule that if a dog was cited for running loose more than three times, they would report it to Animal Control Manager Tom Buss to see if he wanted to address it with a Show Cause hearing or in another manner).

At this point, it appears that Phillips might end up being the “bad guy” at the end of this case merely by making the correct legal ruling. If the dogs are deemed dangerous, he has little choice about what he can do because there are state statues that define what a dangerous dog is and the options available to the court.

If the dogs are to be saved, it would mean turning them over to a rescue group or animal sanctuary under strict conditions as has been done in other areas of the country. This type of deal would most likely happen between Prosecutor Kyle Attwood and the other parties in the case before the next hearing which is scheduled for June 13th.

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4 thoughts on “Dangerous Dog Enforcement Issues Prove Problematic in Grand Traverse County

  1. Yvonne Hebert June 1, 2016 at 7:44 pm Reply

    Why is it important to save these dogs? They are dangerous to the pets of other people, and have already killed other pets. They are owned by an irresponsible person who has not shown the ability or willingness to control them. An entire neighborhood is being terrorized by these dogs and their owner. They have gotten away with killing other animals repeatedly. This will make it very hard to control them in the future. Stop the legal pussyfooting around and put them down before they hurt or kill some other pet or person.
    There are animals that can run loose and not hurt anything, but these dogs are looking for something to attack. There are hundreds of really nice animals out there looking for their fur-ever homes. Time and money is being wasted on these two dogs by the court system, the police, the neighbors trying to protect what’s left of their pets. This situation is ridiculous. Too many dead pets already. Put them down and stop the nonsense.

  2. Jil Johnson June 2, 2016 at 4:50 pm Reply

    Yvonne, I can see your point. Unfortunately, the dogs are just a symptom of a larger problem, being the court system (in regards to animals). The real issue here is how the ball was repeatedly dropped by the Prosecutor’s office. When I was in court, Chris Forsythe, the prosecutor for the case, told me that unless I made a ‘deal’ with him, the judge would dismiss the case. I believed him. I was lied to. I am sorry that I was so trusting. It never occurred to me that I would be tricked. There have been countless times where the laws were ‘bent’ or conveniently ignored by the Prosecutor’s office so that the dogs could have one more chance. Don’t let the dog part of this story distract you from the real problem.

  3. Deb Miner June 6, 2016 at 11:23 pm Reply

    Dogs deserve a chance. Let them be separated out of state to have a chance at a real life not with these careless owners. Get the current puppy away from them. They should never own a dog again. Let Judge Phillips get a review of dogs from CHS where they have been confined. Its not the dogs. It’s bad owners and lack of training. Three dogs and you can’t take care of any of them. Give the dogs a chance at rehabilitation. They deserve it. They did not choose the careless owners. Owners chose them and failed them. Shame on owners.

  4. Frank Gulino June 13, 2016 at 6:03 pm Reply

    Yvonne. Obviously it was the owner that was dangerous. These are working dogs and should never be allowed to be run unsupervised. So you want the dogs to be destroyed because the owners were irresponsible. If a drunk driver kills someone do you blame the car ? I I leave a loaded weapon out on my porch and a child blows his hand off , is it the gun’s fault? Almost ANY NICE dog left out in these circumstances will get into trouble.

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