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Family wants change after dogs were kept by AACo for over a year

Posted at 5:36 PM, Feb 24, 2022

MILLERSVILLE, Md (WMAR) — After a yearlong battle, the two dogs blamed for killing a cat in Anne Arundel County are back with their family.

Now that the fight for their lives is over, the family, their supporters and attorneys are fighting for change.

“We don’t want this to happen to anybody else ever,” said Wendy Cozzone, the owner of Cheryl’s Rescue Ranch, who coordinated a GoFundMe for the family.

Lucy, an Akita, and Odin, an American Bully, have been home since Friday and are already back to their lovable, happy, playful selves.

“It’s been amazing having my little buddy back. He’s been sleeping with me, cuddling, playing,” said Dale Dillon, Odin’s owner.

Lucy and Odin lived at Anne Arundel County Animal Care and Control for over a year, accused of getting out their front door and attacking and killing a neighbor’s cat.

“These poor dogs suffered for a very long time,” said Stephanie Kimbrell, the family’s attorney.

Lucy and Odin were sentenced to death because they were deemed vicious. It stems from a 2017 law to prevent dogs that kill other domesticated animals from returning to their communities.

A small dog named Lilo was killed by an at-large dog who was later allowed to return to its owner. In response, the County Council unanimously passed Lilo’s Law, creating a “vicious animal” designation and a mandate that a vicious animal be euthanized.

“We shouldn’t have a law where if a dog kills a small, furry animal in the woods, that that dog can be put down for that," said Kimbrell.

“I was shocked when I read the law. That it was so clear and such a low bar to deem a dog vicious and that’s what happened here,” said Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman.

Pittman said when he heard about the case a few months ago, he questioned how these dogs, who had no history of aggression towards other animals or humans, could be put down.

“I have a dog named Lucy at home and I thought about my kids who have guinea pigs and how careful they have to be to close the door so that the dog doesn’t get in with the guinea pigs. Those guinea pigs are domesticated animals, and if Lucy killed one of the guinea pigs, I don’t think that deeming Lucy vicious and euthanizing her would solve any problems. In fact, it would be tragic,” said Pittman.

At the end of January, during the family’s last appeal effort, a Court of Appeals judge sided with them, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to put the dogs down because there was no credible information about what precipitated the incident.

It was then that Pittman said he asked the Office of Law to settle the case and get the dogs home. The two parties went back and forth and eventually made an agreement with lots of conditions, including anti-climbing and digging fencing and signage, to return Lucy and Odin and downgrade their designation to dangerous.

“We are very grateful for any help he [Pittman] was. We just wish instead of January 2022, it would have been January 2021,” said Cozzone.

Despite Cozzone and the dog’s owners saying they made multiple calls to Pittman’s office since April of last year, he said he has no record of that.

“The first I heard about it, there was this petition drive and it was online and that’s when I was made aware of it and at that point, it was passed the Board of Appeals and on its way to the courts so I probably would have done something at that point if I had known,” said Pittman.

Supporters realize there are probably a lot of families out there who don’t have the resources to fight for their dogs the way they did. Even with all the money Cozzone was able to raise for them on a GoFundMe, she paid a lot out of pocket and the attorneys from the Law Office of Ed Middlebrooks put in a lot of time for free.

“We knew it was wrong for these dogs to be put down and so we just decided we’re doing this. We’re gonna fight this case until we win. And I’m so glad we won and got them home,” said Kimbrell.

Kimbrell is now focused on change. She questions how the vicious determination was reached without a sworn statement or testimony from the sole witness to the end of the incident.

“You should not be allowed to put animals to death on an unsigned, unverified, no affidavit and the guy doesn’t even show up to be cross examined,” said Kimbrell.

After seeing media reports about the final appeals hearing, the witness submitted a sworn statement the next day, saying, "I was working in my garage and I heard dogs barking and I went to check on it and it was two dogs, Odin and Lucy. Odin had Big Boy [the cat] in his mouth and shaking him back and forth and Lucy was biting at my Big Boy's head."

The family and their attorneys still don’t believe the dogs killed the cat. They believe, because of a continuing problem with coyotes killing cats in the neighborhood, that the dogs happened upon the cat after he was already dead.

“Even if they had, with the history of these dogs, which was zero aggression towards any animal, zero aggression towards any person, to put them down for that to me is just unconscionable, it makes no sense,” said Kimbrell.

Pittman is also concerned about the rigid standards of the law and asked his staff to do a thorough review of this case.

“These laws are written with good intent and they are often written after an incident like what happened in our county, a terrible incident. The goal was to keep dogs that are likely to do these sorts of things again from being back in the community, particularly with irresponsible owners that don’t keep them off the streets, but I think the way this law was written, the potential consequences weren’t fully evaluated and it’s time to go back,” said Pittman.

He plans to bring changes forward in a proposal to the County Council this spring.

“We’re counting on that. We’re counting on it,” said Cozzone.

The family is also concerned about the conditions the dogs were living in. Lucy has raw spots on her elbows, they both are no longer potty trained, and Kimbrell was told by animal control officers that the dogs were not allowed outside.

Anne Arundel County Police said in a statement: “The dogs were permitted to go outside. Also, the dogs were kept in long “runs” which had two sides, one for eating and living and the other for eliminating. The runs were cleaned in accordance with COMAR (Code of Maryland Regulations) standards.

The protocol, as provided by COMAR, requires that “staff will attempt to walk or provide other enrichment to dogs not able to be walked by volunteers” and “Staff and volunteers will strive to interact with animals daily to provide social contact, mental stimulation and physical activity.”

AACACC safely provides care and enrichment for all animals. Safety is always our priority and each animal and its circumstances are different and handled in a manner in which we believe we are balancing animal welfare and safety to the best of our abilities.”

AACo PD said since the 2017 law, about 15 vicious orders have been issued each year, despite around 1,500 investigations per year. In 2018, six dogs were euthanized. In 2019, nine dogs. In 2020, 11 dogs and in 2021, one dog.

They said in a statement that Anne Arundel County has worked hard in recent years to strengthen the laws to hold irresponsible owners accountable because it is recognized that in the wrong hands any animal can create a public safety issue.

“It’s just so important that people take good care of their animals and protect them from getting loose and doing things that their instincts lead them to do. We do have to have these laws to protect the public and other animals,” said Pittman.