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DNR testifies sanctuary smelled of "rotting flesh" and flies were chewing wolfdogs' ear tips off

The Michigan DNR confiscated fifteen animals from Howling Timbers Animal Sanctuary in October 2020.

A conservation officer testified today in front of a Muskegon, MI, judge that when she entered a garage while executing a search warrant at Howling Timbers Animal Sanctuary in Sept. 2021 she “could immediately smell rotting flesh.”

The hearing is in a civil case against Howling Timbers to determine what happens to 46 wolfdogs that have been illegally housed at the sanctuary for years, according to court testimony.

The owner of Howling Timbers Animal Sanctuary, Brenda Pearson, is also facing criminal charges for possessing a dangerous animal causing serious injury and for possessing a wolfdog without a permit. Those charges were brought after a July 2020 incident in which Pearson’s 2-year-old granddaughter stuck her arm in a wolfdog enclosure and a dog latched onto it. Investigators say the child lost a portion of her arm due to the incident.

Pearson claimed in social media posts that the wolfdog didn’t attack the child. She said the child “got her arm stuck in the fence at the elbow and lost her arm.” A trial on the criminal charges is expected later this year.

Judge Annette R. Smedley heard testimony today from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The DNR executed a search warrant in Oct. 2020 after receiving a tip about a child being attacked by a dog at Howling Timbers. They removed six red foxes, four eastern box turtles, three coyotes, and two fawns from Howling Timbers during the search warrant and they said they were investigating the 46 wolfdogs housed illegally at the property.

Conservation officer Anna Cullen testified that she executed additional search warrants at Howling Timbers in July and Sept. 2021. At the July search, Cullen said that “almost every single one” of the wolfdogs were being chewed on by flies, a condition referred to as flystrike.

“The tips of the ears of the wolfdogs were being essentially chewed off,” Cullen said. “Many of the wolfdogs were missing the tips of their ears or they had exposed flesh on the tips of their ears and in many cases we could see the flies resting on them.”

During the Sept. search warrant, Cullen testified she found several animals that had untreated medical issues and when she entered the garage she could “immediately smell rotting flesh.”

The smell was coming from a wolfdog named Chaundra that Cullen found lying motionless in the hot, humid garage, with a bloody bandage around her neck, “and the bandage was dripping blood,” she testified.

Cullen said she determined that Chaundra had been in that condition for five days without receiving veterinary care.

Cullen also witnessed another wolfdog named Zanny that had a very large mass growing just underneath her tail “that continues to grow.” Cullen said Zanny was also not receiving veterinary treatment.

Aside from Pearson not being licensed to own and breed the wolfdogs, Cullen said she found broken fencing, improperly secured enclosures, and enclosures that were smaller than the legally required size. She said some of the enclosures were constructed in such a way that the wolfdogs could easily dig underneath or could jump over top of the fence and escape.

Cullen testified that in 2019 a wolfdog escaped from Howling Timbers and had to be shot. She said witnesses have told her of other escape incidents.

Howling Timber’s attorney Celeste Dunn questioned whether Cullen completed a thorough investigation. She implied that Howling Timber's may not be subject to state regulations because they're operating as a sanctuary.

During cross examination, Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson pointed out that Howling Timbers was breeding the wolfdogs. He told the judge that even if Howling Timbers was considered a sanctuary there would still be state regulations the facility would need to abide by.

The prosecution provided evidence that there were four bite incidents at Howling Timbers but none of the incidents were reported to the health department, which is required by law.

The judge heard testimony from two former Howling Timbers volunteers who were attacked by wolfdogs at the facility. One of the volunteers said she had 22 puncture wounds from the attack and her bone was chipped where the wolfdog crushed her arm.

The judge approved Nancy LaPorta Brown of North Carolina's Full Moon Farm wolfdog sanctuary to take four of the wolfdogs. Laporta Brown said she will be evaluating the wolfdogs to determine if they can be placed in private homes.

Laporta Brown also offered to place eight of the wolfdogs at Tigers for Tomorrow in Alabama. The judge said a Tigers for Tomorrow representative will need to testify under oath before she will consider the facility for placement.

Hilson reiterated that anywhere the wolfdogs are placed must be safe for the dogs, safe for the community and legal.

The civil hearing will continue tomorrow.


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