MONROE — Two Sylvania Township women embroiled in a legal battle to save their dogs from death row in Michigan are hopeful a Monroe County judge today will extend a restraining order that halted the execution last week.
A hearing at 2 p.m. in Monroe County Circuit Court will determine whether the order will be extended while the case is appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals.
“The appeal has been filed, so they wouldn’t have any reason to deny [the extension],” Janni Juhasz said. “If the dogs are put down, what’s the point of the appeal?”
Mrs. Juhasz, 49, and her daughter, Katalin Juhasz, 22, own a husky mix named Bugger and a husky named Nala. Mrs. Juhasz said the dogs were safe inside the house May 2 when she left for work around 9:30 a.m. She said her stepson, who does not live in the home, had dropped by the house during the day and accidentally left a side door open. Though the screen door was still shut, Nala knows how to open it.
“Nala figured out how to jump on that storm door and pop the handle,” Mrs. Juhasz said.
While the Juhaszes have a wood-fenced back yard with chicken wire along the bottom to prevent the dogs from digging out, the side door exits to the open front yard. The huskies were found inside a barn on Whiteford Center Road just north of the Ohio-Michigan state 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 witnessed the dogs attacking the surviving pig, and said one of them 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 have been kept there ever since, and the Juhaszes have not been allowed to visit them.
“It was really, really tough,” said Ms. Juhasz, whose first baby is due April 21. “You’re used to the dogs coming and jumping on you, loving on you. And then they’re gone and you can’t see them.”
“I wonder what they think, if they think we abandoned them, if they’re ever going to see us again,” Mrs. Juhasz added. “That really bothers me.”
Nala and Bugger were deemed guilty in July at a “show cause” hearing held in Bedford Township as directed by the Michigan Dog Law of 1919. The law requires dogs that injure or kill livestock be destroyed, so the dogs have been on death row while their owners appealed the constitutionality of the law.
Additionally, a forensic bite expert has cast doubt on the dogs’ convictions after viewing evidence photos of the pigs’ injuries.
“If I believed for one minute that those dogs were guilty, then I would abide by the law,” Mrs. Juhasz said. “I mean that.”
Judge Michael LaBeau of Monroe County Circuit Court upheld the dogs’ guilt on Feb. 21 in a first appeal. On Friday, he signed a restraining order temporarily halting the dogs’ executions and the Juhaszes filed a second appeal with the state court.
The Juhaszes said that they have done everything they can think of to keep their dogs from running loose. When they got out in the past, it was via the screen door when Nala learned to open it and when part of their fence blew down in strong winds.
“You’d be hard pressed to find a dog owner who can claim their dog has never, ever, ever escaped. It happens to all of us,” Mrs. Juhasz said. “I don’t know how we could have been more responsible. It could happen to anybody.”
Ms. Juhasz added that huskies are known to go wandering. The dogs were both microchipped, properly licensed in Lucas County, and wore additional tags with the owners’ phone numbers. Nala even had a GPS tracking tag, though it had stopped working and Ms. Juhasz was trying to buy a new one when the incident occurred.
The women said they are hopeful their appeal will succeed.
“I feel good about the [state] appeal this time because we’re not in Monroe anymore,” Mrs. Juhasz said. “I really feel like we’re going to get an unbiased opinion now.”
Ms. Juhasz said dealing with the legal system has been slow, expensive, and frustrating, but they chose to continue their fight because Bugger and Nala are “innocent and we love them.”
The dogs’ toys, food and water dishes, and other items remain in place in anticipation of their return.
“[Bugger] slept right next to the bed and there’s a pillow that’s his,” Mrs. Juhasz said. “That pillow is still there waiting for him to come home.”
But should the worst happen and the women are unable to save their dogs, Mrs. Juhasz said she will continue to seek to change the law.
“I’ve already paid the attorney fees for this,” she said. “I will follow through on the appeal because that law needs to be reworked.”
The Juhaszes said support flooding in from across the country and from places such as Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, Croatia, and Canada has bolstered them as they fight for their dogs’ lives. A Facebook page aiming to save the dogs has more than 4,000 likes, while an online petition has nearly 47,000 signatures.
“Right is right and wrong is wrong,” Mrs. Juhasz said. “I am a firm believer in crusading for what is right. And this is right.”