Prosecutors raise safety, neglect, permit issues in wolfdog case

Muskegon County

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — A hearing that will determine what will happen to 47 wolf-dog hybrids now living at a sanctuary east of Muskegon began Monday with testimony surrounding the treatment of the animals and whether they are dangerous.

The state is seeking to remove the wolfdogs from Howling Timbers in Egelston Township. Owner Brenda Pearson is charged with possessing a dangerous animal causing serious injury and possessing a wolfdog without a permit. Muskegon County prosecutors are raising three main issues: safety concerns, alleged animal neglect and the sanctuary’s lack of permits to house the animals.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources raided the Howling Timbers last year after a young girl, one of Pearson’s granddaughters, sustained an injury that cost her her arm.

But Pearson said the girl’s injuries were not bites. Rather, she argued, the girl got caught up in a fence while reaching through to grab a dog’s collar.

“Nobody, not one person, knows what actually happened that day,” Pearson said outside the courtroom.

One witness described a separate attack by one of the wolfdogs that she suffered while volunteering at Howling Timbers in 2001.

“I didn’t know what I had done to make him (the wolfdog) angry,” the witness said. “He launched himself at my arm, latched onto my arm, would not let go. He pulled me down to the ground.”

A DNR conservation officer testified to the alleged neglect of the animals, saying two of the wolfdogs were not receiving adequate medical treatment at the time of the raid last summer.

“I observed a white wolfdog on the ground in a kennel, not moving. I had to check if it was breathing,” Conservation Officer Anna Cullen said. “I could immediately smell rotting flesh.”

Pearson denies all claims made by the prosecution and hopes the judge will rule that the dogs can stay where they are.

“It’s very difficult because right now we’re just hearing their side and of course they’re a little biased and I think they’re anti-wolfdog,” Pearson said.

Prosecutors last week said that’s not the case. They said their main concern is the ethical treatment of the animals.

Monday’s hearing wrapped up around 4:30 p.m. without a ruling from the judge. The judge has also not yet decided when the hearing will reconvene.

Regardless, four of the wolfdogs are expected to be transferred to a sanctuary in Alabama as early as Tuesday. A decision hasn’t been made on what will happen to the remaining wolfdogs.

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