The Michigan Court of Appeals has affirmed the death sentence for two bulldogs that allegedly attacked a horse in Presque Isle County.
In People v. Reed (Docket No. 353140), the horse was allegedly attacked in its barn by two bulldogs that had run off from the defendant, their owner. Charles Kendziorski later found the two dogs in his barn, covered with blood and standing by his horse. A veterinarian examined the horse and advised the injuries were so severe that the animal should be euthanized. Accordingly, the horse was put down.
Presque Isle County subsequently instituted civil proceedings against the defendant. The district court ordered that the dogs be destroyed pursuant to MCL 287.286a. The defendant appealed to the Presque Isle Circuit Court, which agreed the dogs should be destroyed.
The Court of Appeals affirmed in a 2-1 decision. “There was no evidence presented that any other animals had been in the barn with the horse,” Judge Jane Beckering and Judge Mark Boonstra wrote. “Given this evidence, a reasonable fact-finder could conclude the defendant’s dogs had attacked the horse.”
Judge Amy Ronayne Krause dissented, saying the dogs could have fought off another animal that attacked the horse. She also pointed out that if the dogs could have entered the barn, then other animals could have entered, too. In addition, she called killing the dogs an “unprincipled and excessive outcome” and, instead, said the animals could be confined to their home.
Dog Law Validity
On appeal, the defendant argued that MCL 287.286a – a provision of the Dog Law of 1919 (Dog Law) – was repealed by implication when the Legislature passed the Dangerous Animals Act (DAA) and that it was unconstitutionally vague and therefore void.
In its analysis, the Court of Appeals first addressed the defendant’s claim that the lower court erred by ordering the dogs be euthanized under a law that was “repealed by implication” as a result of the DAA being passed. “We disagree,” the Court of Appeals said, noting the lower court ordered the dogs’ destruction under MCL 287.286a and that MCL 287.286a “was added to the Dog Law in 1927 by 1927 PA 114.”
The DAA was enacted by 1988 PA 426 and became effective in 1989, the Court of Appeals observed. “This Court has found that by enacting the DAA, ‘the Legislature sought to curtail the ownership of dangerous animals’ by including provisions designed ‘to prevent dangerous animals from running at large or injuring persons’ and ‘by placing owners on notice that they will be held criminally liable for any harms caused by their dangerous animals.’”
The Court of Appeals then cited the DAA’s definition of what constitutes a “dangerous animal” and pointed out the statute says: “… After a hearing, the court may order the destruction of the animal, at the expense of the owner, if the court finds that the animal is a dangerous animal that did not cause serious injury or death to a person but is likely in the future to cause serious injury or death to a person or in the past has been adjudicated a dangerous animal.”
According to the Court of Appeals, there is “some overlap” between MCL 287.286a and the DAA. “For example, both statutes allow a district court to issue a show cause order and subsequently order that a dog be euthanized if the dog attacks a person. But the Dog Law provides for euthanasia in much broader circumstances than does the DAA. MCL 287.286a(1) provides for the euthanasia of dogs that have, among other things, ‘destroyed property,’ ‘attacked or bitten a person,’ or ‘shown vicious habits.’ By contrast, the DAA only allows a court to order a dog’s destruction if it finds that the dog meets the definition of ‘dangerous animal’ and if it finds that the dog has caused or is likely to cause ‘serious injury or death to a person.’ … Furthermore, unlike the Dog Law, the DAA does not provide for the protection of property or livestock. But the DAA is also broader than § MCL 287.286a in providing for the euthanasia of any ‘dangerous animal’ regardless of whether the animal is a dog.”
Therefore, the DAA “specifically addressed the protection of human beings and dogs from any dangerous animals, including dogs, while the Dog Law specifically regulates dog ownership and MCL 287.286a specifically provides for the euthanasia of dogs that have injured persons, property, or livestock,” the Court of Appeals wrote. “Notwithstanding the overlap between the DAA and MCL 287.286a, these statutes are not ‘so incompatible that both cannot stand.’ … Given the differences in the scope and purpose of these statutes, we cannot conclude that the two statutes plainly and unavoidably conflict, or that the Legislature intended the DAA to occupy the entire field previously covered by MCL 287.286a. … The DAA did not repeal MCL 287.286a by implication.”
Next, the Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s argument that MCL 287.286a was void for vagueness. “Defendant argues that MCL 287.286a(1)(b) fails to give adequate notice because it does not provide a definition for ‘destroy’ or ‘property.’ That is, defendant does not contend that she did not have adequate notice under the particular circumstances of this case; rather, defendant only argues that the terms ‘destroy’ and ‘property’ are vague. However, because the conduct at issue in this case clearly falls within the statute, defendant’s challenge is without merit. … The dogs in this case entered a barn located on Kendziorski’s property and inflicted such serious injuries upon the horse that, on the advice of a veterinary professional, the horse had to be euthanized. MCL 287.286a(1)(b) is not unconstitutionally vague as applied in these circumstances.”
In conclusion, the Court of Appeals said the evidence presented was “sufficient” for the lower court to find that the horse had been attacked by the defendant’s dogs. “There was no evidence presented that any other animals had been in the barn with the horse. Given this evidence, a reasonable fact-finder could conclude that defendant’s dogs had attacked the horse.”
In her dissenting opinion, Judge Ronayne Kraus said that killing the dogs was “unwarranted” based on the record.
“The record evidence does not permit a reasonable trier of fact to find any greater likelihood that the dogs attacked the horse than that a wild animal attacked the horse,” the judge wrote. “In addition, even if the conviction was to be upheld, the manner in which the dogs escaped defendant’s brief lapse of attention, and the extensive countermeasures the owner took without any prompting to ensure that no such escape could ever recur show that killing the dogs, as opposed to the statutorily-permitted alternative of releasing the dogs to defendant’s care, would be an inappropriate sanction. Finally, at a minimum, the trial court erred by failing even to recognize that an alternative to killing the dogs existed, let alone giving that alternative any consideration. I would reverse, or at least remand for reconsideration of the appropriate sanction.”