A Muskegon County Circuit Judge issued an opinion in favor of prosecutors today and ordered Howling Timbers Animal Sanctuary in Muskegon, Michigan, to forfeit their wolfdogs to the state. The judge also ordered two wolfdogs that had been involved in mauling a child to be euthanized.
Brenda Pearson owns Howling Timbers. For years the facility has housed more than 40 wolf-dog hybrids and other animals without the proper permits, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
The state brought charges against Pearson and Howling Timbers after a July 2020 incident involving Pearson’s 2-year-old granddaughter who stuck her arm in a wolfdog enclosure and was mauled. Investigators said the child lost a portion of her arm due to the incident.
The DNR executed a search warrant at Howling Timbers in Oct. 2020 and removed six red foxes, four Eastern box turtles, three coyotes and two fawns. The DNR executed additional search warrants at the property in July and Sept. 2021.
A trial to determine whether the wolfdogs would remain at Howling Timbers or be turned over to the state began in Oct. 2021.
Muskegon veterinarian Dr. Laurie Wright testified during the trial that she assisted with executing the July search warrant at Howling Timbers. Wright said she witnessed several wolfdogs that had untreated wounds, were severely underweight and had discharge coming from their eyes. She said that the majority of the wolfdogs were being chewed on by flies and many of them had sustained severe fly bite trauma to their ears, which were bleeding and draining.
Wright testified she found moldy and rotten food that was being provided to the animals. In her report, she documented water receptacles that were rusty and in disrepair and none of them contained fresh water, she wrote. Several of the wolf-dogs displayed behaviors such as pacing, aggression to cage mates and self-mutilation, she said in her report.
DNR Officer Anna Cullen testified that while executing search warrants she found broken fencing, improperly secured enclosures, and enclosures that were smaller than the legally required size. Cullen testified that in 2019 a wolfdog escaped from Howling Timbers and was shot and killed. She said witnesses told her of other escape incidents.
The prosecution provided evidence that there were four people who were bitten by wolfdogs at Howling Timbers but none of the incidents were reported to the health department, which is required by law. The prosecution argued that Pearson was breeding the wolfdogs, which is a violation of Michigan law. During closing arguments, the prosecution told the judge that they had proved Pearson had committed 14 violations.
Defense attorney Celeste Dunn argued that no member of the public has ever been injured by a wolfdog at Howling Timbers and that the facility is not a threat to public safety.
At one point during the trial, the judge visited Howling Timbers and inspected the conditions herself.
Pearson has repeatedly maintained that if the judge ruled in favor of the prosecution, all of the wolfdogs at the sanctuary would be immediately euthanized. Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson has denied that his office was seeking to euthanize the animals.
Judge Annette R. Smedley ruled today that Howling Timbers was possessing wolfdogs illegally and ordered that they be forfeited to the state to be placed at appropriate facilities.
Howling Timbers posted on social media that the judge's ruling was stayed for 21 days.
"We have faith in the court of appeals," Howling Timbers wrote in a Facebook post.
Muskegon County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Tim Maat told MLive that his office is still trying to determine what will happen to the wolfdogs if there are no appropriate facilities available to take them in.