Published May 13, 2012
LAS VEGAS – Animal control officials got a go-ahead Friday from a state court judge to euthanize a 120-pound dog that fatally mauled a 1-year-old boy at home, despite efforts by a New York-based rescue group to take custody and send the animal to a sanctuary in Colorado.
Clark County District Court Judge Joanna Kishner sided with Henderson city attorneys who argued the attack proved the 6-year-old mastiff-Rhodesian ridgeback mix is vicious, and that an uninvited third party with no ties to the family had no legal right to step in to try to save it.
"Despite good intentions ... a party cannot just come in and state on their own that they wish to be a party to this case," the judge said. "The court has to follow the law. It's not for me to decide what action Henderson should take."
Lawyers for the Lexus Project said they want to appeal.
Kishner declined to issue a formal order postponing euthanasia pending an appeal. But she said there will be time before her order is written, signed and filed.
Henderson police Capt. James Green said outside court that with legal issues pending, there would be no rush to put the dog to death.
The court proceeding in Las Vegas had its share of drama. The judge declared from the bench that she volunteers at a cat shelter and her family adopts rescue animals. Neither side objected to having Kishner decide the case.
Outside the courthouse, protesters waved signs and staked out their positions on a death sentence for the dog named Onion.
"Don't Punish the Dog," read a poster that Annoula Wylderich waved in a cluster of about 12 animal rights advocates. None said they ever met the dog or its owners.
"Let's Make Dog Tacos," read a sign held aloft by Brad Keith, an electrician standing alone on the sidewalk. He said he learned about the protest on the TV news.
No one inside or outside the courtroom represented the family that was devastated when the boy's first birthday celebration ended in tragedy on April 27. Family members later told reporters the dog reacted suddenly when the toddler grabbed its fur to pull himself to a standing position.
City officials said Onion bit the boy's face and head, ripping flesh from bone and holding on for half a minute before family members could pry him away. The boy's grandmother signed ownership and custody of the dog over to city animal control officials and said she wouldn't contest quarantine and euthanasia. Family members have said since that they just want the ordeal to end.
The boy's father, Christopher Shahan, did not immediately respond Friday to a message seeking comment.
Chandan Manansingh and Kathy McCarthy, representing the Lexus Project, said outside court that they never met the family or the dog. They were enlisted by Lexus Project President Robin Mittasch of Oceanside, N.Y., to obtain from Kishner a temporary order postponing the dog's death until the court had time to hear arguments.
The question they argued Friday was whether a trust document that Mittasch filed in New York gave her the right to take ownership and custody of the dog and send him to an animal sanctuary outside Denver.
"Provocation must be viewed from the dog's perspective," Manansingh said. He asked the judge to consider the plight of a lifelong family pet now "locked up, isolated, scared, lonely and confused."
"Onion has a chance at a second chance," he said.
Kishner listened for 90 minutes before ruling the trust document didn't establish ownership. The organization also didn't follow proper administrative steps with the city before going to state court, she said, and nothing in the record contested the declaration that the dog was vicious.
Assistant Henderson City Attorney Michael Oh underscored the vicious animal finding, saying the dog has been aggressive in recent days toward other animals and a veterinarian who approached it during quarantine at the city shelter.
Sparing the dog's life "might be something a lot of people in the community might like," the judge said. "It's not something the court has a legal right to do."