Weigh In on MI Dog Mauling Case

An interesting case in MI:  A couple engaged to be married, who between them owned three dogs, kept the dogs in their fenced yard with warning signs posted.  A 6 year old neighbor girl and her friend wanted to come in the yard one day while the man’s niece (also a resident) was home.  The niece told them no, don’t come in the yard.  The 6 year old, apparently without adult supervision, opened the gate to the fence anyway and went into the yard.  The dogs mauled her.  The man and the woman who owned the dogs were charged with keeping dangerous animals and agreed to have the dogs killed.

Michigan law dictates that an animal can not be declared dangerous for attacking a trespasser.  In the case against the male owner, prosecutors argued that a 6 year old can not be a trespasser since the child would be unable to make such a distinction.  The jury convicted the man and sentencing is scheduled for next month.  The trial against the fiancee is set to begin next week.

Here are my questions:

Do parents/caregivers have the right to expect their 6 year old children to be safe in the neighborhood, even when not supervised by an adult, and even when the child is trespassing on to someone else’s property?  (Regardless of whether you believe the child could knowingly trespass or not.)

If state law says a dog can’t be declared dangerous for attacking a trespasser (which is a reason some people have dogs – for protection) and the argument is made in court that the child is too young to knowingly trespass, are we not then making the assumption that dogs must be somehow capable of discerning trespassers of sufficient mental maturity to understand that trespassing is illegal vs. trespassers who are not capable of this understanding?  Does the law need to be re-written?

If the couple had left a jug of bleach on the porch, and the kid unlocked the gate, walked up to the porch and drank the bleach, would the couple have been charged with a crime?

Are charges against the girl’s parents/caregivers appropriate?

36 thoughts on “Weigh In on MI Dog Mauling Case

  1. Very good points! There MUST be accountability for parents who leave children unsupervised and those children (of any age) then make choices that are dangerous, illegal, or whatever the case may be. This couple’s dogs were in the confines of their own yard, the couple had sufficiently posted the appropriate warnings, and they had every reason to believe that their dogs were in a protected area. Now the dogs are dead (or will be) and it is through no fault of theirs or their owners. This is appalling. There is no responsibility for anything anymore. It is always someone else’s fault and therein lies a big problem in our society. Yes, I feel terrible for the little girl and her parents! But it is their responsibility to keep her safe and 6 years old is PLENTY old enough for her to understand that she should not go onto someone’s property without permission and, more importantly, that she should NOT go into her neighbor’s gate. If the dog owners are being penalized, the girl’s parents should also be put on trial for child neglect and endangerment. And that’s a crime punishable by law.

    1. Agreed, there is a distinctive lack of personal responsibility in our culture and an unrealistic expectation of safety EVERYWHERE. We are ultimatly as parents responsible for our children’s safety. The dogs were safe in their yard and the couple should be responsible. Who lets a 6 year old wander around alone?

  2. Good questions Shirley. #1: No parent or caregiver can reasonably expect a 6 year old to be safe without supervision which leads to #2: if a 6 yr, old is deemed by the courts to be mentally insufficient, then why WOULD a parent or caregiver expect them to be safe anywhere without supervision? Of course, dogs cannot know the difference between mentally mature and the opposite – but humans always seem to demand more of the animals than we do of our own species; and #3: who knows? The sad truth is: probably not, in this hypothetical case, the parent/caregiver(s) would likely be charged with negligence. Whattaworld.

  3. So sad all around. Another reason to keep your gates locked, but then a child can climb fences too.

    Once where I lived a young child of about 2-2 1/2 years old got stuck in a broken child’s walker that I put out for the trash pick up. This child was outside alone. I untangled her and found out where she lived — a few doors down. Mother told me the child had bee hit by a car when she was 18 months old. Guess the mother didn’t learn anything from that.

  4. That’s a LOT of variables.

    To answer your questions:

    “Do parents/caregivers have the right to expect their 6 year old children to be safe in the neighborhood, even when not supervised by an adult, and even when the child is trespassing on to someone else’s property?”

    – Yes, they do. Can they expect 100% safety? No. But reasonable safety? Yes. Now, the real question becomes is it reasonable to expect an unsupervised 6 year old to make safe choices? I would say no, in which case unless the danger into which the child fell was caused by intent or serious negligence it is the parents who are responsible for their child’s safety.

    “If state law says a dog can’t be declared dangerous for attacking a trespasser (which is a reason some people have dogs – for protection) and the argument is made in court that the child is too young to knowingly trespass, are we not then making the assumption that dogs must be somehow capable of discerning trespassers of sufficient mental maturity to understand that trespassing is illegal vs. trespassers who are not capable of this understanding? Does the law need to be re-written?”

    – Yes, the real question is how. I’ll explain shortly.

    “If the couple had left a jug of bleach on the porch, and the kid unlocked the gate, walked up to the porch and drank the bleach, would the couple have been charged with a crime?”

    – Apples and oranges. You can’t compare the actions of bleach to the actions of sentient beings. You also can’t compare the child doing something to something being done to the child. Honestly, I’m not sure there is a comparison.

    “Are charges against the girl’s parents/caregivers appropriate?”

    – These dogs were being kept behind fences with warning signs, which indicates some knowledge that these may not be the most well-socialized dogs on the block. The owners knowingly placed the dogs in this containment without ensuring that the gate was appropriate – having a lock, for example, or a latch out of reach.

    I was severely attacked when I was 8 years old, and I deal with the scars every day. The experience did not cause me to fear dogs (rather, I work with aggressive dogs now) however it DID make me not-very-forgiving towards people whose dog(s) have injured others – particularly children.

    So, are the charges appropriate? Well, the court certainly thought so. I don’t have enough information to say one way or the other, although it’s pretty hard to argue against charges while looking at that poor little girl’s face and head. My heart goes out to both families, this was a tragedy for everyone involved.

    I should also point out that while you stated the owner’s niece told the child not to enter the yard, the reality is that this claim is still disputed. The victim and her friend both stated under oath that the niece asked them to come in the yard “to see the puppies.” That changes things quite a bit than simply stating the children were trespassing.

    If these dogs were aggressive enough to maul a 6 year old that entered their territory, they should have been kenneled within the yard, and gates/doors should have been kept locked. This poor little girl received 500 stitches about the face and head, including reattaching her ear. We’re not talking about defensive bites, we’re talking about full-blown attacks that appear to have taken place because the child fell down into a vulnerable position.

    Now, jail time as a sentence is a whole other discussion… not sure I agree with that one, unless there was pretty solid evidence that the nature of these dogs was known to the owner. The dogs were euthanized, and I’m assuming their home owners insurance is currently dealing with a pretty large claim. Some community service and large fines seems appropriate, and perhaps some education so that this never occurs again – at least in their yard.

    1. “These dogs were being kept behind fences with warning signs, which indicates some knowledge that these may not be the most well-socialized dogs on the block. The owners knowingly placed the dogs in this containment without ensuring that the gate was appropriate – having a lock, for example, or a latch out of reach.”

      I have to disagree with the first part of this statement. I have a warning sign every 5 feet around my fence saying ‘Beware of Dog’. I have a 12 year old toothless German shepherd. Why? I want people to LEAVE THEM ALONE. I constantly have children trying to stick sticks through the fence and poke them – WHEN IM RIGHT THERE, and I have to yell at them to leave the dogs alone – once even escalating to a kid being sprayed in the face with a water hose for teasing the dogs.

      I’ve contacted police numerous times about the stupid kids not messing with my dogs. I placed signs to tell them that dogs can be dangerous. Because you know what happens if this sweet old Shepherd finally has enough? End of the road.

      Rest of the story aside, having a warning sign on their yard does NOT indicate that the dogs may be unsocialized or dangerous, but rather the owner trying to protect themselves and their dogs.

      1. My apologies, I realize now how that sentence sounded. My point was that if you kept your dogs behind these walls with such signs, as in – were reluctant to allow them outside of said walls – this would indicate some knowledge that these were not sound animals.

        We post Beware Of Dog signs on our fences to ensure that people know they are walking into a yard that contains dogs – more of a keep your eyes open and the gate closed kind of thing. I was not condemning the signs on their own.

      2. Gotta agree, we put up a beware of dog sign, not cause the puppy’s agressive (though he sounds scary as heck when he’s barking), but because he’s a big dog (and not done growing yet) and I don’t want to have him scare a stranger into the opposite ditch cause they didn’t know we had a dog (he’d lick them to death once they were down too, probly drown’em in slobber).

      3. A sign that says, “beware of the dog” is an admission that the dog is a threat. Many courts have held that such a sign is notification of the fact that the dog has a propensity to bite.

        If you want people to know there is a dog in your yard, put up a sign that says, “Notice: Dog on Premises.”

    2. Switch out the bleach for a bee hive resulting in a swarming or a horse resulting in getting bit/kicked (suppose from improper feeding techniques or spooking it). Then who’s fault is it?

      They are contained sentient beings apples to apples. All are somewhat unpredictable and can be dangerous.

  5. Why i it some peolpe believe the sun rises & shines between the cheeks of little kids asses.

    The child is at fault. The dogs & owner shouldn’t be punished. Knowing a child is hurt is punishment enough. The child’s caretaker is who is at fault, if there is one. Shit happens. Just because she is 6 doesn’t give her a free pass to do whatever she wants & the proof is in the stitches.

      1. Or maybe he has a split personality.

        From his comment on SmartCityMemphis blog (comment 15)

        ‘We care for the animals just like EVERY child. What do you care about? What have YOU done to help society?’

  6. Some more information from another article:

    “The trial began this morning and looks to hinge on whether Tyah was rightly inside the fence at 118 Mantle Ave. in Blackman Township. Nace, 36, did not give her permission to be in the yard, argued his lawyer, Christopher Dickerson. A six-foot privacy fence surrounded the space and warning signs were posted, Dickerson said. Nace rescued the animals, which have since been euthanized. They were mistreated in some way and he did all he could to keep them away from people outside his home, Dickerson said.”

    “Dickerson concedes Tyah’s injuries were extensive and Nace owned the dogs. Jurors have to decide whether Nace is criminally liable, he said.”

    “Assistant Prosecutor Jared Hopkins said he has only to prove Nace owned the dogs, the dogs were dangerous animals and Tyah was injured.”

    In yet another article, Nace’s girlfriend mentions that her dog (the third of the trio) is the progeny of the other two. The girlfriend was 19 at the time of the attack, and went to jail right after for breaking her parole from a previous larceny conviction. I mean, really – we could go back and forth about the legalities of this situation, but aren’t these the very people who we’re talking about when we say “it’s the owner, not the dog”?

    These are sketchy individuals at best, and I think it’s pretty clear with all of these comments that they were aware the dogs were a potential threat. If they were not, the owners certainly stacked the deck when they “did all they could to keep them away from people outside the home.”

    I’m curious to learn whether Nace “rescued” this family together, or if it was his equally good judgment that led to him breeding these two dogs together – dogs that were of such wonderful temperaments they couldn’t be taken out of the yard.

    Defending people like this is not helping the plight of the pit bull.

  7. Well, after reading the article I think I have the answer to why this man is being charged with a crime. Did anyone else notice that they had to use “pit bull” in the headlines? Not just “dogs” but “pit bulls.” There are enough ignorant people out there who think that just by owning a “pit bull” you are keeping a dangerous dog. This court wants to punish this man for daring to keep “pit bulls” in his yard. Next someone is going to argue that he is surely a gang member or a drug dealer and deserves to go to jail.

    So, no, he should not be charged with a crime because if a child is capable of walking and talking then they are capable of trespassing. Trespassing is motive neutral. It doesn’t matter if you meant to rob the house or just hang out; you are trespassing. Poor child but frankly, she made a bad choice to enter the yard and suffered for it, but it doesn’t make the dog owner responsible.

    1. No, I’m pretty sure he was charged with a crime because the law states that owners of dogs who try to eat children should be charged with said crime.

      Ok, so maybe it doesn’t say EXACTLY that, but still…

      The prosecutor had more than enough to charge the owners, and from there it is up to the court to decide.

      As for the court, what the local paper chooses to highlight or ignore has no bearing on the court’s decision.

    2. As mentioned above, the issue of trespassing is disputed. The 6-yr-old testified she was invited and escorted onto the property by the niece of the dogs’ owner. The niece and the dogs’ owner claims the 6-yr-old entered through the gate on her own.

      This man was judged by his peers to be guilty of a crime, so obviously they felt there was not enough reasonable doubt to believe the man was anything but culpable for the actions of his dogs.

      Actions, by the way, that resulted in 500 stitches of damage to a child. This was a prolonged, vicious mauling, not a warning to get off the property. I don’t expect dogs to have a moral compass, but I also don’t expect dogs who cohabitate with humans, supposedly as pets, to play tug of war with the faces of neighborhood children.

      If you owned three muscular dogs you knew posed a significant threat to the public, such that you felt you needed to keep them outside and chained (and you admit you try to keep them away from the public), then you should be prepared to face the consequences when those dogs, as a pack unit, attack someone.

  8. I don’t know that there’s enough information given in the articles to make a good decision.

    I suspect there’s an element of “evil pitbulls” in there.

    I have to admit on the face of it, a 6yr old child is capable of tresspassing, because a 6yr old is old enough to understand “don’t go into a fenced yard without mommy or daddy” (seriously, what if they’d been child molesters or something, the law only helps AFTERWARDS), I certinally was at 6, course my parents wouldn’t have let me get away with half of what kids these days do either. I would like to see a latch that would be higher up or harder for a 6 yr old to open, since obviously theirs wasn’t.

  9. Common law typically establishes the age of reason — at which a child can be expected to understand right and wrong (e.g. trespassing, stealing) at seven.

    This tradition dates to Roman times.

    Animals that are that dangerous to a child below the age of reason should be reasonably secured.

    However, there appear to be many issues of fact in dispute in this case, so I can’t answer whether the owners of the dogs should have been criminally charged.

    They are certainly liable in civil court.

  10. My two cents, FWIW: I would leave a 6 year old in the house with a responsible adult without direct supervision (such as a playroom) for brief, intermittent periods. I would not leave a 6 year old outside, whether she was in her own yard or anywhere else, for one second without direct adult supervision. I’d be afraid something like this would happen. I am not a parent but I worked full time as a nanny for many years and of those years, the number of seconds I left a child outside the home w/out my direct supervision equals zero. Kids do stupid stuff, bad things can happen.

  11. Far from it, but I accepted the lumps & bumps I earned from stupidity or doing the wrong things. I didn’t send dogs to their deaths or punish other parents for MY mistakes.

  12. Each time a child is involved in anything the “praise children” crew will burn to the stake anyone else.

  13. Some of the facts seem disputable. I really don’t think a child who can’t reason can be sworn under oath. So who knows she could be lying to stay out of trouble. Her parents could of told her to lie to pay the medical bills.

    Most fences and gates are made by companies and sold to the public. Security fences are usually tall chain link fences with wire on top. Most people don’t install that themselves. I would think if the owners payed for this fence that they figured it met safety standards. Since locks only keep honest people out they may of figured it wasn’t necessary or a waste of time/money.

    Was there lots of kids in this neighborhood or were they few and far between. In rural areas you may not expect kids wandering around especially six year olds. They may of decided to not trust their dogs fully but really didn’t think they would attack someone.

    Lots of people put warning signs up about a dog even if they don’t have one. Makes people think twice about going where they shouldn’t. Doesn’t mean they think the dog they have is really worth warning about. Some people put them up so when you walk past and the dog barks you don’t have a heart attack (thank you kind people).

    In the bleach scenario replace the bleach with bees or horses. If she got stung or kicked would that still be the land owners fault?

    In my opinion dogs should not bite and I wouldn’t keep on that did. But the parents need to do a better job parenting. The girl should not of been wandering. So many things could of happened she could of been hit by a car, taken by someone, or fallen in a pool or lake. These dogs were not friendly but they were not running loose she invaded their space. This was at least half the parents fault.

  14. I have no experience w/children but my husband who raised four boys in a previous life says that a six year old child only understands NO if they have been taught what NO means. Bad parenting can make kids that don’t respect the word or understand the word No. This would be something that the courts would have to clear up and who knows if they will even go there.

    He also says that a six year old might not respect the authority of a ten year to tell her not to do something. An adult yes but a ten year old would be questionable. So they might do it anyway because that’s what six year olds do. And they would not understand the premise of personal property nor respect gates or signs if they really wanted on the other side.

    Other than the dark, the boogie man they have no real fear unless they have either experienced it or been taught it so there could be bright flashing neon signs saying danger and they might not recognize it.

    So is this couple guilty of the child’s injuries? Dang if I know. I wasn’t there and this reads to me like an accident that was bound to happen eventually. Sad on so many levels.

    1. It’s not an accident bound to happen. No one should have to quarenteen their dogs in a 12′ fence with security guards around the perimeter and muzzles on the dogs.

      They shouldn’t be held responsible for what someone else does of their own accord. You can’t expect everyone in the entire country to padlock their gates just because someone MIGHT go into their yard. People presume their property to be private. If you leave your car door unlocked, is it ok for an idiot to steal your car and just because he is an idiot, should he be able to get away with it?

      Only because it’s a “child” involved some want to blame the dog’s & the owners. If a 30 year old comes in & gets bit, would you feel different? It shouldn’t be different, the private property is just that: PRIVATE. Keep out & your kids too.

      1. We can bemoan the inadequacy of parenting all we want, but the fact remains that this individual knew his dogs posed a threat. His grand solution was to chain and tether his dogs in his yard, put signs up and, you know, hope for the best. His solution did not appear to involve proper kennels, adequate exercise, appropriate socialization, or behavior modification. That is, he did not make ANY reasonable attempts at making his dogs more safe to the public.

        Remember, this was not a “bite”, it was a prolonged mauling that required one dog to be beaten off with a board. I don’t want any dog described as a pet to behave in that manner.

        He is just as culpable for NOT doing anything right with these dogs he “rescued” (but bred!) as the parents are for not making clear that the ONLY time you go into a person’s yard is if your parent is with you and permission is granted by the homeowner. Apparently a jury of his peers agreed.

  15. I just don’t understand why are they expecting to kill the dogs. ? It’s not their fault for doing what most people expect of their dogs: to protect their property. That’s what dogs do. It could of been tiny dogs or St. Benards, doesn’t matter, most dogs instinctively protect their area.

    Killing the dogs is just knee jerk reactions of those who will always find fault with anyone/anything when children are involved. Damnit.

    1. These animals SAVAGED A LITTLE CHILD.

      Mebbe that means nothing to ezbuddy, but normal members of most species don’t generally just write off potentially lethal threats to their young with “Meh. Whatcha gonna do?”

      My dogs are perfectly capable of protecting their property, people, and livestock — and that’s one of their genuine jobs, not some dirtbag’s imagined security system — without trying to kill the neighborhood children — who right now are pretty regularly dropping by to see the puppies, chicks, bunnies, and other attractive nuisances. (While I’m not too concerned that my future hasenpfeffer and coq a vin are highly socialized to human children, I am keenly appreciative of what these visitors are doing for the social development of the pups.)

      Because they are trained, socialized, and under control — as well as being selectively bred to adore human children.

      If someone else’s dog is none of the above, then he damn well better at least contain the beast to minimize the public menace.

      Claiming “Hey, tough about that mauled baby, but you know, that’s what dogs do” is not only deeply ignorant and callous to the point of depravity, it’s a great way to fuel anti-dog legislation. Since “that’s what dogs do” and there’s no accounting for it, it’s pretty logical to just, you know, ban them outright.

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