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Hearing: former dog owner v. UPAWS

Story updated to clarify the name of a rescue organization.

MARQUETTE -  Officials from the Marquette County based Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter are in court today to answer questions about a dog adopted out that caused serious injury right after being placed in a new home. The dog, an American Staffordshire Terrier - Husky mix, was returned to UPAWS and its former owner says she was notified that the dog would be euthanized.

Marion Schiefel of Gwinn, the woman who surrendered the almost two-year-old dog Abel to UPAWS February 26, was granted a 'stay of euthanasia' March 19 in Marquette County 25th District Court. 

Local 3's Calvin Lewis is in the courtroom today. He'll have more details about the proceeding on Local 3 News at 6 pm and 11 pm EST.

Schiefel told Local 3 News she surrendered the dog because she could no longer care for it. She says UPAWS contacted her after the dog bit someone in its new home March 3 and that she begged UPAWS to not put the dog down, but to be allowed to be placed at a canine rehabilitation facility.  In fact, representatives from two rehab facilities offered to work with Abel after the incident.  Schiefel says she took this court action after UPAWS would not tell disclose whether or not Abel was still alive.

Judith Jones is with the Make A Difference Rescue.  She told Local 3 News she tried to get UPAWS to transfer the dog to her organzation.

And, while the groups focus is on animals in the metro Detroit area, its members do work with animals from other areas.

Although Schiefel says Abel has always displayed a good temperament, the recent stress in being surrendered, neutered and adopted - all within five days - could have been a factor in the incident.  The Facebook page Emergency Justice for Abel was set up to encourage others to plead for Abel's life to UPAWS.

UPAWS is a non-profit animal shelter operating in Negaunee Township. According to its website, upaws.org, it cares for "homeless, unwanted, abandoned and abused domestic animals based on what we believe is best for them.  We have no affiliation with any larger group and we receive no funding from any larger group that might influence our decisions or actions."

On its website, UPAWS  shows stats for 2017 that total 1,567 animals brought into the shelter, with 1,537 adopted, returned to an owner or transferred.  

As a "no kill" facility, UPAWS has been very public about the efforts to save and place many animals. A "no-kill" shelter is defined as an animal shelter that does not kill healthy or treatable animals even when the shelter is full, reserving euthanasia for terminally ill animals or those considered dangerous to public safety. The save rate is noted at 98.1% for 2017: 20 animals were euthanized while 15 died in the shelter's care.

UPAWS website says, "Our mission is to improve the quality of life and welfare for domestic animals and to provide a safe haven while finding lifelong homes for the animals in our care. We embrace the No Kill* philosophy, seeking to end the euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals." 

The following statement was released March 10 in regard to the situation:

At the Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter our mission is to improve the quality of life and welfare for domestic animals, and to provide a safe haven while finding lifelong homes for the animals in our care. We embrace the No Kill philosophy, seeking to end euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals. We do not euthanize simply for time or space. We save consistently 98% of the animals who come to us-which is an award-winning success story. We have the best save rate in the State of Michigan for a shelter of our size.

We are proud to be a no kill shelter, where animals can stay until they find the perfect home and are never euthanized for time or space. We exhaust all resources possible and work extremely hard to rehabilitate sick and behaviorally challenged animals. Euthanasia is reserved only for terminally ill animals, or those considered dangerous to public safety. Euthanasia is a very difficult decision that our No Kill shelter must make in circumstances where the humane thing is to end an animal’s suffering or when an animal with aggressive behavior has reached a level where we cannot safely interact with the animal.

We have received a lot of inquiries regarding a dog that was recently surrendered to us at no fault of his own. UPAWS obtained as much information about his history during intake as possible, from a family that loved him very much but due to circumstances needed to rehome him. This dog went through routine behavioral assessments and was found to have no history or knowledge of aggression through all interactions with staff and volunteers at the shelter and documented history from the previous owners. The dog was put up for adoption and happily adopted.

An unfortunate situation occurred on his first day in the home, where he attacked a person in the face causing serious injury. This attack was unprovoked and unanticipated. The severe attack caused serious injury and will require major reconstructive surgery. Local authorities were contacted as a result of the attack, the Marquette County Health Department placed this dog on a 10 day bite hold, and the adopter surrendered the dog back to UPAWS care and ownership.

As professionals, we sought additional medical evaluations and behavioral assessments to determine if this behavior was a serious threat leading to a decision to euthanize the pet, or if the behavior could be rehabilitated. A decision to euthanize a pet is only considered as a LAST resort after all other options have been explored. After seeking all other options, it has been decided that the animal’s behavior has deteriorated to aggression that cannot be rehabilitated, labeling the dog as dangerous.

At UPAWS we care for our animals with a level of compassion and love as if they were part of our very own family. We are happy to be part of their happy tail journey in finding their forever home. We are deeply saddened in the rare situations that require us to make the most difficult decision of all. We understand how difficult this situation is, especially because this dog did not have a history of aggression. To our knowledge, this was his first time ever biting. This attack resulted in such severe injury, we can no longer confidently re-home him and guarantee this will not happen again. Our hearts ache for the victim of the attack, the previous owners who were shocked at this behavior, and for having to say goodbye to one of our UPAWS family members to ensure public safety. We thank you for your compassion and understanding at this very difficult time.


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