Onion the “Vicious” Dog Released After Two Years in Custody

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.”

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe3 years ago

It's sad that the little boy lost his life, but Onion basically lost his life also.
He was taken away from the only family he knew and then locked up in a strange place all by himself for 2 years!! For a dog, when the owner is away for just a few hours, that is FOREVER, so I can imagine Onion doesn't have a clue what to expect next.

For their deal, the city required that Onion be moved to an out-of-state rescue and that he NOT be adopted out or allowed around children. What kind of life is that?? My heart is breaking for him!!

Lyn Romaine
Lyn Romaine4 years ago

I think I might need to add that IT IS EASY to get distracted while watching a little one crawling around on the floor. The telephone could have rung, she could have gone to the bathroom, and forgot about the little one. In either case they should not have blamed the dog. The dog was minding his own business away from everybody.

Lyn Romaine
Lyn Romaine4 years ago

It is too bad that it could not be understood that the dog acted out of pure instinct. He was in a dark room sleep, and he felt something on him that he got off of him. I am sure beyond a doubt that he did not know that it was the little baby that had crawled onto him. I am sure that at any given time he would have protected the little one and would not have cared one bit if he had gotten next to him. But the little boy should not have been allowed to crawl around unsupervised, especially into a dark room!

Katerina Z.
Past Member 4 years ago

Its a shame this animal was punished by a tangle of legal nonsence. If someone woke me up in the middle of the night Id hit them too by accident or something. This is just bizarre and outrageous.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H4 years ago

I can't believe we treat animal "offenders" worse than humans. Humans have a lawyer, know what they did and that it was wrong, and work to weasle themselves out of it or get on parole... A dog has no idea what they did that was so wrong, can't explain to us what, why and how it happened, and a normally social butterfly turns into Hannibal in solitary not seeng anyone for years. It's just not right.

Ryan b.
Ryan B4 years ago

Bonnie B. I couldn't have said it better. Wake me up unexpectedly and I will come up swinging too. I would not know if you are my wife or my child trying to wake me up. It really comes down to the grandma not paying attention to the kid and the grandma passing the blame to "the dog." It's not the dog's fault in any way, shape or form. How can anything that goes bad be a dogs fault? If anything is a dog's fault we as humans really need to treat dogs better because they are a lot higher cognitively than previously thought.

Charlotte S.
Charlotte S4 years ago

I wonder what the 2 years in "custody" has done to the dog? He's probably not the same. Why wasn't the grandmother prosecuted? Anyone (dog or human) when roused out of a deep sleep might have the same reaction. Did the toddler grab the dogs throat? The truth is we don't know why the dog reacted they way he did but it wasn't intentional or his fault. Only an idiot doesn't supervise children when they're around animals.

Georgia G.
Georgia a4 years ago

My goodness, public officials and common sense finally do meet. Will wonders never cease. Good luck to Onion and may the remainder of his life be long and blessed. I am truly sorry a young child's life was lost but the dog definitely was not at fault. Adult humans fell down on their job and for once, an animal didn't pay the price for their failure.