Michigan judge visits Howling Timbers during trial to determine fate of 47 wolf-dogs kept illegally


A wolf-dog in an enclosure at Howling Timbers. Photo shared from Instagram/Howling Timbers.

A trial that will determine the fate of more than 40 wolf-dog hybrids being kept illegally at Howling Timbers Animal Sanctuary in Muskegon, MI, continued today.


The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) executed a search warrant at the unaccredited wolf-dog sanctuary in Oct. 2020 after receiving a tip that a child was attacked by a dog. The 2-year-old child had stuck her arm into a wolf-dog enclosure and a dog latched onto it. Investigators say the child lost a portion of her arm due to the incident.


While executing the search warrant, the DNR removed six red foxes, four eastern box turtles, three coyotes, and two fawns that Howling Timbers was not licensed to house. They also found 47 wolf-dogs that were being housed illegally at the property.


The year-long investigation resulted in Howling Timbers Owner Brenda Pearson facing both civil and criminal charges related to her wolf-dogs.


A civil forfeiture trial was initiated in Oct. 2021 and at that hearing the judge heard testimony that at least four people were injured by wolf-dogs at Howling Timbers in recent years. Two people were hospitalized due to their injuries. The prosecution provided evidence that none of the bite incidents were reported to the health department, which is required by law.


Assistant Muskegon County Prosecutor Amol Huprika said that the four bite incidents were just the incidents that they were aware of. He said that Pearson has accepted wolfdogs that were involved in biting incidents in other states, referencing a wolfdog named Cheyenne that severed a child’s arm in another state. Cheyenne was moved to Howling Timbers where she remains.


The judge heard testimony from Pollyanna McKillop, Animal Shelter Regulatory Program Manager for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. McKillop testified that Howling Timbers has not been licensed to run an animal shelter since 2018.


Michigan’s Wolf-Dog Cross Act makes it illegal to possess wolf-dogs in the state without a permit. U.S. Department of Agriculture Investigator Martin Vandevelde testified that he investigated Howling Timbers and discovered they aren't licensed by any regulatory foundation.


During an extended noon recess, Judge Annette Smedley visited Howling Timbers to examine the conditions at the facility.


Testimony continued in the afternoon with veterinarian Dr. Laurie Wright. Wright testified that during a July 2021 search warrant she assisted with documenting the conditions and evaluating the animals at Howling Timbers. She said she witnessed a wolf-dog named Chandra that was in a garage with a bloody bandage wrapped around her neck from an injury she sustained due to a history of fighting with a cage mate. She reported that the majority of the wolf-dogs 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 that several of the wolf-dogs were severely underweight and had discharge coming from their eyes. She said she found a wolf-dog named Hunter that appeared to be in pain and was having a difficult time walking. A wolf-dog named Zanny had a large draining wound on his hindquarters. A wolf-dog named Ed had hair loss on his forelimbs that was suspected to be self-inflicted mutilation due to stress.


Two arctic foxes that are kept in a garage appeared to be infested with parasites. A potbelly pig was morbidly obese and severely lame which was suspected to be painful. A horse named Maddie had overgrown hooves and was reluctant to walk.


Wright testified she found moldy and rotten food that was being provided to the animals. In her report, she documented water receptacles that were either rusty or in disrepair and none of them contained fresh water for the animals.


Several of the wolf-dogs displayed behaviors such as pacing, aggression to pen mates and self-mutilation, she said in her report.


“This facility and the animals housed there do not meet industry standards for operating standards, housing, husbandry, nutrition and environmental enrichment,” Wright wrote in her report.


Judge Smedley reiterated that the prosecutor, the defendant and the court do not want to see the wolf-dogs euthanized but if she rules in favor of the prosecution and acceptable sanctuaries are not lined up, the wolf-dogs will be euthanized.


" ... if they are not placed somewhere, that at the end of this hearing, my only option would be to euthanize, and that would be all of the animals and not just the young ones or the old ones and that’s something I have no control over," she said. "By law, that’s what’s going to happen."


Smedley said numerous sanctuaries have reached out to offer placement for the wolf-dogs and those offers were forwarded to Howling Timbers.


The trial will continue tomorrow with testimony expected from former volunteers, a neighbor, and a veterinarian that treated the wolf-dog named Chandra for her injury.