Theres a lot of pain and emotion in Bart Arrigos voice as he tells the story of the court-ordered destruction of his pet dog, Jake.
The officials of Kalkaska County had no care or remorse -- they destroyed a wonderful animal... an injustice was done, he says, echoing the sadness of anyone whos ever lost a pet.
Jake, a 14-month-old Great Dane, made the mistake of biting a friends child in the face last August. Bart, who owns an excavating company in Kalkaska, had just returned from boating that day with his girlfriend and their neighbor friends. They were sitting around a fire, having a good time, when 10-year-old Cory was bitten on the cheek by Jake.
I felt terrible, Arrigo remembers. We grabbed Cory and ran to the hospital. The whole thing was terrible for us and the boy.
Indeed, Cory received 12 stitches, and since hed been bitten once before, is now reportedly even more wary of being around dogs.
The story illustrates one of the unfortunate realities of pet ownership in America, in that dogs sometimes bite, and when they do, the law clashes with all of the emotions that are invested in the ownership of a pet. Nationwide, more than 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs in the United States each year, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thats about two percent of the population.
Children account for more than half of all dog bites -- often because they are at eye level with a canine and are literally in its face.
Police were summoned to the hospital and they subsequently took Jake away to be quarantined for 10 days in Kalkaskas animal shelter. On the tenth day, they told me to turn myself in for having an unlicensed dog, Arrigo says. I told them that he was already licensed in Antrim County, but they said that didnt matter because we were in Kalkaska.
Arrigo was held in jail for four hours before being released on a personal recognizance bond. He then went to the courthouse to get his dog properly licensed for Kalkaska, only to be told that it wasnt possible because Jake was already licensed in Antrim.
Arrigo is sorry that Cory was bitten, but relieved that the boys family are still friends. In fact, he says that Cory and his family testified in the subsequent hearing that they didnt want to see Jake destroyed.
Arrigo believes that the dog bite was due to the fact that Jake had an ear infection and was also taking some medicine that may have altered his mood. When Cory brushed against his sore ear, Jake literally snapped.
Arrigo has owned four Great Danes through the years and calls them the gentle giants of the dog breeds. He lives on an 80-acre ranch outside Kalkaska where his pets have plenty of room to run and play. He also owns a three-year-old Great Dane named Tiny who weighs in at 140 lbs. Arrigo had planned to breed Jake, who was an exceptional merle harlequin example of the breed with a value of $1,200. Jakes pups would have fetched $800 to $1,000 each.
Arrigo fought hard to keep Jake from being destroyed. He hired attorney Jim Hunt from Traverse City and saw to it that the case went to trial in the countys 87th District Court. He sought the testimony of expert witness, Pam Johnson, who spent 17 years training dogs in the Marine Corps. Her recommendation was that Jake be neutered -- something Arrigo says he planned to do after breeding the dog.
But the court ruled that Jake had to be destroyed, with the caveat that Arrigo could appeal the decision, provided he could come up with a $5,000 stay-of-execution bond -- in cash.
Arrigo thought the cash bond seemed improper and unusual, but set about arranging the money. He was under the impression that animal control officer Chuck Hill would be busy with a training project through the end of the week, and that there was still time to save Jake. But Arrigo turned up with the cash bond at the end of the third week in October, only to find that Jake had been put down by lethal injection the day before.
They went and destroyed my dog without giving me a chance to prove he wasnt a bad dog, Arrigo says. They just hurried up and killed him and got rid of the body. It was handled unprofessionally because they didnt want to give Jake a chance.
They thought that financially they would stop me, Arrigo says. He believes that when county officials realized he was going to produce the cash bond, they rushed Jakes destruction.
Even if he couldnt save his dog, Arrigo wanted to be with Jake at the end of his life. I wanted to be there with him at the end, and I wanted his body to bury on my ranch.
From the countys perspective, assistant prosecutor Bryan Beach notes that both parties had a full hearing in a case that went beyond the typical destruction of an animal. This wasnt just done on a whim. We take this very seriously, he says.
The boy now has a very large scar on his cheek, Beach adds, noting that the court was swayed by some fairly grisly photos of the wound. There was a fairly significant injury to the childs face. After the hearing, the judge deemed that it was a dangerous animal.
Even so, why couldnt Bart Arrigo be with his dog at the end of Jakes life?
It isnt a policy of the county to allow that, Beach says. Its fairly obvious -- it could lead to an altercation having the pets owner there at its destruction. Its going to be very sad for the owner.
I wouldn‘t hazard to draw any conclusions in such a story, other than to point out the obvious: there are three viewpoints here in what is a fairly common occurrence in America: that of the parents and their child, the law, and the pet owner, in what tends to be an emotionally-charged issue. Perhaps youve stood in the same shoes as one of them. What do you think?