285 days later: 'Death row' dogs head home to veteran

Leon Hendrix -

IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) -- Dogs once doomed to be euthanized are now headed back to their owner, a veteran who has been waiting and hoping for their return.

The dogs, Mario and Luigi, were accused of killing three goats and a cat last summer after they were found in the pen with the deceased livestock. A judge decided that the animals should be put down.

After that decision a small team lead by Detroit-area attorney Celeste Dunn got wind of the case and decided to take it on pro bono.

The case culminated Monday in Ionia County District Court where a 10-hour, at times intense trial lasted into the night. Shortly after 11 p.m., the judge released his verdict and determined that the dogs should be spared and released from animal control Tuesday afternoon.

The judge ultimately ruled that he wasn't convinced the dogs killed the livestock because of evidence and testimony that there was no blood on the canines.

The dogs' owner Allen Hustin lives in North Caroline so his parents, Susan and Byron Vamvakias, spearheaded the fight on his behalf. The parents were reunited with the dogs around 9 a.m. Tuesday.

"Like 150 pounds off my shoulders and in my hands," Susan Vamvakias said as she walked out of the animal control facility with the excited and energetic pit bulls in tow. "I'm so excited for Allen. This is what the veteran deserves, is to have his boys home. I'm so excited."

The Vamvakiases said they planned to take the dogs to stay outside of Ionia County until they're able to arrange transportation for the dogs to be taken to North Carolina to be with Hustin.

Ionia County Prosecutor Kyle Butler said he had decided not to appeal the judge's decision but said he had no regrets about pursuing the case.

"Clearly, reasonable minds differed on this case," Butler said in a written statement. "In a community like this -- a rural community home to a lot of livestock -- I will advocate for owners of livestock and do what I believe to be the right thing when it comes to protecting their livestock."

Susan Vamvakias said she broke the news to her son in a phone call just after the judge rendered his ruling.

"I had to wake him up and when he finally woke up, I said 'Al, we won. You understand, you get your boys back!' and there was silence. I said 'Did you hear me?'" she explained. "He goes, 'Oh, mom, Oh mom' I don't know if he was crying or not but he was choked up a lot."

"I am just happy," Byron Vamvakias said. "Tears of joy for a change."

The family says they owe their outcome to the high powered team of attorneys that handled the case without charging the family that had all but lost hope in saving the dogs.

"We owe them a lot," Susan Vamvakias said. "I don't think we can ever thank them enough."

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