What could happen to wolf-dog hybrids at Muskegon County sanctuary?

Muskegon County

EGELSTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — With the owner facing legal action, the family that runs an animal sanctuary east of Muskegon is worried the wolfdogs at the site could end up euthanized, though the county prosecutor says that’s not the goal.

Brenda Pearson owns Howling Timbers. Her granddaughter Kaitlyn Johnson is the sanctuary’s social media coordinator.

“My grandparents have always had a passion for wolfdogs,” Johnson said.

That passion for wolfdogs, a crossbreed between a wolf and a dog, has been passed on to Pearson’s granddaughters, who love to play with and care for the dogs. There are more than 40 of them on the property.

“These animals are like our family,” Johnson said. “We’ve raised them since most were young.”

But Johnson said that working with animals can be dangerous. 

“If you are working with animals, it’s not if you’ll get bitten, it’s when,” Johnson said. “Happened with DNR, local pound, humane society, I could go on for days.”

The sanctuary has been on the Michigan Department of Natural Resource’s radar for more than a decade for a variety of infractions, including not having permits for wolfdogs. The sanctuary contends it has tried to get the proper paperwork. 

“We do have documentation showing that Howling Timbers has been seeking permits since 2018,” Johnson said. “In 2018, MDARD (Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development) said they can’t get anybody to inspect. If you can’t get anybody to inspect your facilities, you can’t get a permit. We’re in a situation where we’ve done everything we can, including microchipping every wolf dog to comply with regulations.”

Last year, the DNR raided the sanctuary after a young girl — one of Pearson’s granddaughters — lost her arm after being attacked by a dog. Howling Timbers said it took corrective action after that happened.

“The one pen it happened in did not have double security fencing, double chain brigade,” Johnson said. “Immediately installed double security fencing, double chain brigade. This makes sure you can’t stick arms through pen and make direct contact with an animal.”

Pearson is now accused of possessing a dangerous animal causing serious injury and possessing a wolfdog without a permit. She is owner is headed to court next Monday, where she could be forced to give up the dogs. 

“Really difficult to find placement for these animals,” Johnson said. “The prosecution has requested euthanasia if we do not find placement, so it’s been difficult. But unfortunately, there’s nowhere for them to go.”

The Muskegon County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office says that’s not the case. Prosecutor D.J. Hilson said in a statement sent to News 8 that his office “is not seeking or requesting to kill any animals.”

“Our office supports animal rights and supports the ethical and legal treatment of animals,” Hilson added in the statement. “Our Office will continue to advocate for the safe, legal and appropriate care of all animals, including wolves and wolf-dog mix breeds. We believe that all animals deserve proper care and will do everything in our power to accomplish that goal.”

News 8 also reached out to the DNR for statement but was referred back to the prosecutor’s office. 

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