The Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office will be seeking an outside legal opinion to determine if criminal charges should be filed after a dog declared dangerous was adopted out from county possession without the new owners being informed of the animal’s history.
Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer said the dog, originally known as Tank, was one of two dogs that killed a goat. The owner at the time did not want to fulfill obligations under the county’s dangerous dog laws, so the county took possession of the animal. According to county code, once a dangerous dog is in possession of the county, it needs to be euthanized, Meyer said.
“It was brought to my attention it was not euthanized,” he said.
Instead, the dog’s name was changed from Tank to Hank and he was adopted out by the county, which operates the Lewis County Animal Shelter, to a new family that was not told of the dog’s past. Meyer said the parties involved in adopting out the animal believed the dog was wrongfully deemed dangerous.
The new owner was contacted and voluntarily returned the animal to the county’s possession, said Meyer.
After the owner learned the dog will likely be euthanized, Meyer said, she asked for reimbursement for money she spent on supplies and a fence built to keep the dog contained to the yard. He said the owner wants to appeal the dangerous dog designation.
Currently there is no mechanism to declassify a dog after it is deemed to be dangerous, Meyer said. He said that if issues arose later, the county would be responsible and would likely get sued if the animal injured someone.
The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office was asked to investigate the case, which will be referred to a different prosecutor’s office, largely because one of the county’s prosecutors is a witness in the case, Meyer said.
Possessing a dangerous dog without putting the required precautions in place is a crime, Meyer said.
“In essence what the county actors did is help the adoptive family commit a crime,” he said of the county employees involved in the adoption.
The health department, which declared the dog dangerous, operates under the county commissioners office, so Meyer said a decision must now be made by the Board of Lewis County Commissioners.
“The underlying issue the board needs to be concerned with is under no set of circumstances was it OK to change the name from Tank to Hank and adopt the dog out,” Meyer said.
He said the recommendation from the prosecutor’s office is to euthanize the dog.
“Ultimately it’s your department and your decision,” Meyer told commissioners. “I hate saying it because I love dogs and I love animals, but he needs to be euthanized.”
Glenn Carter, with the Prosecutor’s Office, agreed with Meyer’s advice to the board.
“Unfortunately, the thing is from a court perspective is once a dog is declared dangerous, there is nothing you can do,” he said, adding if the dog later injures someone, the county will be held liable.