A two-year legal battle over the fate of a dog who killed a toddler in Nevada has finally ended with his release from the City of Henderson’s custody.
The story began two years ago when a mastiff-Rhodesian mix named Onion found himself at the center of a controversy about who had legal custody of him and whether he should be euthanized after he killed one-year-old Jeremiah Eskew-Shanan on April 27, 2012.
It was a tragic accident that occurred when Eskew-Shanan went over to Onion, who was sleeping in a dark room, to say goodnight when he tripped and fell on him and, by some accounts, then used Onion to pull himself up. According to the AP, Onion grabbed and shook Eskew-Shanan for less than a minute, but the damage was done and he died later that night at the hospital.
Following the incident, an animal control officer showed up and Elizabeth Keller, Eskew-Shanan’s grandmother and Onion’s owner, signed a document that gave ownership to the agency and allowed for him to be euthanized for being a vicious dog.
The Lexus Project, an organization that defends dogs who are facing death as a result of being declared vicious and/or dangerous, stepped in and sued to save Onion, arguing that the city wrongly obtained custody while Keller was under duress. Keller later testified that Onion had never showed any signs of aggression and that she mistakenly signed the papers because she didn’t understand what she was signing at the time.
During the 20 months this drama played out Onion was held in isolation at the Henderson Animal Care and Control Facility, which raised serious concerns among animal advocates about his care and how isolation would affect his well-being.
Care2′s Sharon Seltzer reported last May that both those who thought he should live and those who thought he should be euthanized believed that keeping him isolated in a cage indefinitely was inhumane. More than 13,500 people signed the petition supporting compassionate care and the opportunity to socialize for Onion.
“Onion doesn’t understand why he has been shut away from the world and he doesn’t know that he committed a terrible crime,” said Gina Greisen, founder of Nevada Voters for Animals. “Animals do not have the capability to intentionally commit evil deeds. He’s been placed in his current predicament due to human error, not because he is vicious. He should have been sent to a sanctuary long ago.”
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, only this past November did he start getting two 10-minute walks each week.
The case made its way to the Nevada Supreme Court in December, where it was decided there should have been a hearing on who legally owns Onion. The case was supposed to go back to court, but the City of Henderson has given up the legal battle, with officials stating they didn’t want to put the family through having to relive the ordeal at a hearing. The deal that was reached releases the city of any future liability and required that Onion be moved to an out-of-state rescue and that he not be adopted out or allowed around children.
The Lexus Project isn’t disclosing the name of the rescue that took Onion. Robin Mittasch, the organization’s president and co-founder, said they are “thrilled with the outcome,” and will not be commenting further out of respect for the family.
Unfortunately, Onion’s case isn’t unique. Animal advocates have stepped in for some of these dogs, while the Lexus Project has defended numerous other dogs who have been incarcerated for being vicious/dangerous and continues to help others whose cases are pending. These cases highlight the problems faced when dealing with these situations and the effects of drawn out legal battles on both the dogs who are seized and on the families who bear the subsequent emotional and financial burdens. They also raise serious concerns about whether the laws we have are really dealing with alleged vicious/dangerous dogs appropriately, or just blindly enacting an eye for an eye kind of justice.
“I’m glad that the city and Lexus Project could work something out. I hope the community learned something from this, and I hope going forward we can make changes and people will be more aware that pets are part of the family but also animals with animal instincts,” said Greisen. “I also hope we take a hard look at the laws and how we go about the process of determining a vicious dog, and we insure that it’s fair and equitable.”
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