Editor's note: Updated version shows correct settlement amount.
For nine days short of a year, a Toledo home was just too quiet and empty. Its two most boisterous residents were missing.
A female husky named Nala and a male husky mix named Bugger had been held in Monroe County since being accused of killing two show pigs just across the state line in Bedford Township last May.
Their owners, Janni Juhasz and her daughter Katalin Juhasz, had been entrenched in legal battles since to save their furry family members and were finally able to bring them home Thursday, after a $5,000 settlement was reached between the Juhaszes and the pigs’ owner.
“They really settled right back in,” Mrs. Juhasz said. “They’re home.”
The dogs got loose May 2 when Nala opened a storm door on which she had learned to pop the latch. The dogs were found inside a barn on Whiteford Center Road just north of the Ohio-Michigan line and a little more than a mile from their home.
It was there that two show-quality pigs owned by Stephanie Sonnenberg had been killed and a third was injured.
Ms. Sonnenberg said she saw the dogs attacking the surviving pig and said one tried to attack her.
She was able to restrain the dogs until Monroe County Animal Control arrived to take custody of them.
Nala and Bugger had been in the pound since then, and the Juhaszes were not allowed to visit them.
Nala and Bugger were deemed guilty in July at a “show cause” hearing in Bedford Township as directed by the Michigan Dog Law of 1919. The law requires that dogs that injure or kill livestock be destroyed, and the dogs had been on death row since.
The Juhaszes appealed the case on constitutional grounds with Monroe County Circuit Court, but Judge Michael LaBeau ruled against them in February.
The case had been filed with the Michigan Court of Appeals last month and will be withdrawn now that the case has concluded.
Philip Goldsmith, attorney for Bedford Township that was a party in the case because of the Michigan law, said he prepared the settlement documents and a court order to release the dogs. Under the settlement, Ms. Sonnenberg was paid $5,000.
“The consolidated dog law of 1919 required the township to take certain actions,” Mr. Goldsmith said. “The township did that and fulfilled its statutory obligation. There was no choice in the matter for the township.”
As agreed in the settlement, the Juhaszes paid $1,000 out of their own pockets to bring their dogs home. A donor — Bud Love, owner of Power Recruiting in Toledo — chipped in $4,000 to buy the dogs’ freedom.
“Without him, we wouldn’t have been able to bring them home,” Ms. Juhasz said. “There’s no way.”
Judge LaBeau signed off on the settlement and an order releasing the dogs, according to Mr. Goldsmith. The animal control facility stayed open late to allow the Juhaszes to take the dogs home.
J. Henry Lievens, attorney for Ms. Sonnenberg, did not return a phone call from The Blade seeking comment.
Including the settlement payments, legal fees, and expenses for expert review of the case, the Juhaszes have spent about $14,500 to save Nala and Bugger.
Boarding fees for the two dogs had totaled about $10,000, according to Sgt. Greg Berman, head of Monroe County Animal Control. Mr. Goldsmith negotiated a reduced cost of $1,500.
“I didn’t object to that,” Sergeant Berman said. “The bottom line is that we all love animals out here and I had no problems with those dogs going home.”
Ms. Juhasz said it took Nala and Bugger a minute to get over their shock at seeing their owners for the first time in almost a year. But when they did, the dogs couldn’t have been happier, Ms. Juhasz said. Bugger, the more excitable of the two, whined and cried.
“He went nuts,” she said. “Nala took a minute longer, but then she got really excited.”
Sergeant Berman said the reason the Juhaszes were not allowed to visit Nala and Bugger was that after the dogs were sentenced, they became wards of the state. The department had an obligation to protect the dogs against any possible harm, theft, or other mischief, as well as to protect people from the dogs.
“It wasn’t based on how we felt personally, but it’s what we were obligated to do to protect the dogs,” the sergeant said.
“My job is to enforce the law. I don’t necessarily agree with all of them, but I have to enforce them until such time as I am ordered not to or they are changed by the Legislature.”
When the car turned into their driveway, the dogs couldn’t contain their excitement. Bugger and Nala immediately went out to the fenced backyard to play.
“We just stood there and watched them,” Ms. Juhasz said. “They were so happy.”
The two have also now met a new little human in the family. Ms. Juhasz gave birth to her first child, a girl named Ally, on April 18.
Ms. Juhasz said she and her mother plan to take a little bit of time to adjust to the new baby and enjoy having their dogs home, but still intend to campaign for the Michigan Dog Law of 1919 to be changed.
“We’ve met so many people who have told us, ‘That could have been my dog,’” Mrs. Juhasz said. “And it could have been. It could have happened to anyone.”
The family plans to continue fund-raising to help pay for an attorney to lobby the Michigan Legislature to rework the law.
“That law has to go,” Ms. Juhasz said. “We’re definitely going to keep fighting that.”
Mr. Goldsmith said he is satisfied with the outcome of the case and hopes the Michigan Legislature will review the law and the processes it requires local governments to do.
“I think it would be wise for the state legislature to look at this law and determine if there’s a better process to follow, whether a different standard should be employed, and whether this should maybe be in a district court as opposed to a township level,” he said.