The judgement against the owners of a local pet dog deemed aggressive have spouted a social media outcry over the last two weeks. Now a hearing has been scheduled for April 23 to determine the fate of Haydes, a nine-year-old female pitbull owned by Jeff Barnhill of Rhinelander.
The controversy stems from a “dog at large” citation issued to Barnhill in January. A court trial was held on the citation and following testimony from Barnhill, and the two people who complained to police they were frightened by the dog, Reserve Judge Robert E. Kinney found Barnhill guilty and fined him $263.50. However, it was Kinney’s further action, ordering the dog seized and “disposed of, pursuant to law” that caused an outcry that has led to hundreds of online “signatures” on a Change.org petition, and hundreds of fans on a “Support Haydes and stand up against breed discrimination!” Facebook fan page. However, according to the official court transcript, the only time the dog’s breed was mentioned was when it was brought forth by Barnhill.
According to the transcript, Barnhill said, “You’re saying, if she wasn’t a pitbull, I wouldn’t be here today?”
“It has nothing to do with the breed,” Kinney said. “It’s strictly the conduct of the animal and your apparent failure to take any steps, whatsoever, to protect the public. That’s appalling.”
Throughout the transcript, Kinney repeatedly made reference to the fact that this was not the first complaint lodged against Haydes. According to the transcript, the two people who testified against Barnhill in the case said the dog has been a concern for several years.
“To maintain a dog of (the) description of this dog is like maintaining a lethal, unpredictable weapon,” said Kinney. One of the witnesses claimed to have called the police three times about dogs belonging to Barnhill over the years, and added that Haydes once attacked another dog in the neighborhood.
The incident in question during the trial occurred on Jan. 8 as they were taking a walk on a privately-owned trail adjacent to Barnhill’s house. The witnesses said the dog ran out of its garage, barking and growling, with its hair standing up from the head to the tip of the tail. It confronted the witnesses on the trail, off of Barnhill’s property.
According to the testimony, Barnhill’s girlfriend began yelling at the dog to come back, and also admonished the witnesses to “not show fear”.
It appears that Kinney’s use of the phrase “disposed of” in regards to Haydes is what has caused the biggest issues. However, when given the chance to clarify his comments Tuesday, Kinney said he did not ask for the dog to be destroyed.
“Only a municipality can file a formal petition related to the disposition of an animal,” said Kinney. “My role was to determine whether I believe the animal to be dangerous, which I believe it was. My use of the phrase ‘disposed of’ indicated my wishes to have the animal removed from the property and Mr. Barnhill’s possession.”
The petition does not necessarily mean the dog, which is currently being held at the Rhinelander Animal Shelter, will be euthanized. Euthanization is a possibility if the dog is deemed dangerous under ideal conditions, but there are other options too, according to Kinney.
“It’s now up to the people at the animal shelter to determine whether the dog can be sold or adopted out to a new owner,” said Kinney. “They put dogs with violent tendencies through psychological evaluations to determine whether the dog can be a safe pet under different circumstances.”
While the hearing scheduled for April 23 will be to determine whether Barnhill can get his dog back, Kinney said that, while he will no longer hear the case, he would advise against it. Barnhill has hired an attorney and is in the process of erecting a fence around his property, but Kinney said that Barnhill has been given multiple chances in the past, and that he believes the dog should not go back to him.
“Mr. Barnhill has proven to be an irresponsible pet owner, and mixing irresponsibility with a pet that has shown violent tendencies is never a good mix,” said Kinney. “I certainly do not want to see the dog put down if it can be put into a positive situation, but I don’t believe that can be with Mr. Barnhill.”
Editor Craig Mandli is avaiable at firstname.lastname@example.org.