NORTON SHORES, Mich. (WOOD) — Dozens of dogs seized from a Muskegon County home in January can finally be put up for adoption.
Alexis Robertson, the executive director of Big Lake Humane Society, confirmed with News 8 that Lisa Cober has forfeited her rights to the dogs. While she held those rights, the dogs remained her property and that meant they needed to stay in shelters while her criminal case played out in court.
“We are all thrilled. It was definitely very draining on all of us to see puppies growing up in our shelter that could have easily been in their forever homes. More than just financially and the space that they were holding here, it was really about them being able to experience what real homes are like,” Robertson told News 8.
Officers with the Norton Shores Police Department, Pound Buddies and the Harbor Humane Society met at Cober’s home on Jan. 30 to investigate a complaint that several dogs were extremely sick and living in “dreadful” conditions.
In all, 78 dogs were taken from the home, with illnesses ranging from distemper infections to kennel cough and skin rashes from “standing in their own urine.” Nine of them died from distemper infections and two other dogs that were brought in to Big Lake Humane Society contracted and died from distemper.
On Monday, Harbor Humane posted the photos of the six dogs lost to distemper on Facebook.
“We honor their lives, and we are sad they were not able to be here today to live happily ever after,” the post read. “As the criminal case against Lisa Cober continues, we hope justice will be served and these lives were not lost in vain. However, we can rest just a little easier knowing that the surviving pups can never return to her care.”
Big Lake and Harbor Humane said the dogs will be made available for adoption later this week.
Big Lake shelter manager Velvet Lyght brought two of Cober’s dogs to Lansing earlier this month to show support for a new ballot initiative called “Protect MI Pet.” In addition to launching a public statewide animal abuser registry, the proposal would change some of the procedures for holding animals involved in abuse cases.
“There are some forms that can be filed for forfeiture of property and that’s 14 days from that, but it’s tied into the preliminary examination, which a defendant can waive,” Lyght explained. “So if that never happens, then there is no proof that a crime was committed and there’s no start on that 14-day (window).”
Even if a person is found not guilty of the charges, they still must pay restitution for the costs accrued by the shelters. Lyght said that is currently the primary motivator to get people to release their dogs. However, if they forfeit the animals, the shelters are forced to cover those costs.
As of early April, Cober owed an estimated $20,000 to Big Lake Humane Society. That number doesn’t cover the 54 dogs being cared for at other shelters.
As of Monday, no trial date or other hearings were scheduled for Cober. She faces one count of animal cruelty against 10 animals but fewer than 25. That was dropped revised down a charge of animal cruelty against 25 or more animals. Both charges are felonies, but the former has a maximum sentence of four years in prison as opposed to seven.
Robertson said she won’t let the story fade away.
“We have started sharing (stories from) people who have had bad experiences with Cober and are sharing those stories on a weekly basis now,” Robertson said. “We’re just trying to remind people and not let people lose interest because she definitely needs to be held accountable.”