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'Pit bulls' granted reprieve

3 from Monroe County raid could be set free in days

MONROE -- Dusty, Reilly, and Monroe -- three "pit bull" mixes rescued in March from a Monroe County dogfighting ring and condemned to die for being deemed threats to public safety -- have been given reprieves and could be days away from being freed from the county's animal control facility.

Circuit Judge Joseph Costello, Jr., on Wednesday signed the order overturning a lower court's ruling to destroy the animals, confirming the decision he made Oct. 20 after a bench trial and ending an eight-month dispute between county officials and animal rescue organizations over the animals' fate.

After issuing the order, Judge Costello returned the case to District Court for Judge Jack Vitale to decide on finding new homes for the dogs.

Jon Svoboda, president of the Buster Foundation, a dog rescue group, said he will ask Judge Vitale for custody of the dogs, which have been caged at the sheriff's facility since March 6, when they were seized during a raid on a dog fight at a home on Ida-Maybee Road in Raisinville Township.

"I am very happy with this ruling," Mr. Svoboda said. "I feel that Judge Costello was very fair."

Razzle, a fourth dog taken from the house, was determined by Judge Vitale not to be a threat to public safety and was placed in the care of the Belleville, Mich.-based foundation.

Tracy Thomas, a lawyer who represents the dog rescue group and the Monroe Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said a motion was filed Wednesday with Judge Vitale seeking a hearing as soon as possible.

"Obviously we will be asking that the judge award them to the Buster Foundation, just like Razzle was," Mr. Thomas said.

Any action in District Court will be taken without the Monroe County Prosecutor's Office. Chief Assistant Prosecutor Jack Simms, Jr., told Judge Costello his office is withdrawing from the case.

Mr. Svoboda said Razzle underwent "good citizen training" and is being considered for adoption into a therapy program.

Linda Benson, county animal control director, said she will abide with whatever orders are handed down by the courts but she maintains that the dogs pose threats to public safety. "A bad dog is a bad dog. These are not good dogs," she said. "As far as I am concerned, these dogs cannot be trusted."

She said one of the dogs was recorded on videotape lunging at an employee at the shelter. Mr. Thomas countered that experts from his animal rescue groups have evaluated the dogs and found them not to have behavioral problems.

"My people have spent hours and hours and days and days and weeks and weeks working with these dogs and being in the company of these dogs," he said. "My people are not neophytes at caring for dogs. This is the breed they have chosen to devote their lives to."

Authorities rounded up 27 people when they raided the fight. Most were charged with watching the bloody spectacle. Mr. Simms said many of the defendants have entered pleas and have been sentenced, including Willie Fletcher of Detroit, who was sentenced to 18 months to eight years in prison for being a handler of a dog that died of injuries from the fight. Also, Charles Applewhite of Detroit, who has a prior felony conviction, was sentenced to 1 1/2 to 15 years for participating in the fighting.

Contact Mark Reiter at: markreiter@theblade.com or 419-724-6199.

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