MANATEE -- A Manatee County judge upheld a death order Wednesday for two dogs that bit a boy on Christmas Eve 2012.
Judge Doug Henderson, however, did grant a 10-day stay for the dog's owner, nationally ranked dog trainer Karen Erskine, to file an appeal with the 12th Judicial Circuit Court.
The Australian shepherd dogs, Buck and Bill, escaped the home Erskine was staying in Dec. 24, 2012, and bit a 13-year-old boy three times. The dogs were seized by Manatee County Animal Services shortly after the incident.
Erskine has been fighting to get her dogs back since the seizure, saying it was an accident and someone must have provoked the animals for them to act so uncharacteristically.
"This has been ridiculous," Erskine said following the hearing. "I have been made an example of, and I don't know why."
Erskine sought the hearing Wednesday to reverse the order issued Feb. 22, 2013, by Henderson upholding an administrative hearing officer's ruling ordering the dogs be euthanized.
"I'm not willing to vacate any order, and I'm not even sure I have jurisdiction to do so," Henderson said. "There is nothing in dispute about those dogs getting loose and biting that boy real bad."
Attorneys Jennifer Dietz and Nancy Grier, however, said not allowing Erskine a full evidentiary hearing in court denies her right to due process.
"Ms. Erskine has been begging, begging for someone to listen to her," Grier said.
Grier claimed proper protocol has not been followed to declare the dogs "dangerous" and order them put to death.
Henderson disagreed. He said he reviewed all evidence in the case -- despite a full hearing not having taken place.
Manatee County attorney Jim Minnix agreed with Henderson.
"Your preliminary review was quite thorough, especially on her motion for rehearing," Minnix said. "You concluded that the decision of the administrative hearing officer should be upheld in all respects."
Erskine was issued four citations for the two dogs being at large and attacking a human. The fines to
In lieu of the fines, however, she was permitted to complete community service, according to court records. Erskine said she completed more than 400 hours of community service, when only 87 were required.
After the order to vacate the earlier ruling was denied by the judge, Erskine's counsel made a last-ditch attempt at working out a path to an appeal.
Dietz and Grier have already filed motions for relief and an emergency motion to prohibit to the circuit court.
"Now that you have signed this, it is our consideration that, as a county, that all the remedies that are given to Ms. Erskine have been exhausted," Minnix said.
The judge then granted the 10-day stay of execution to allow Erskine to file an appeal.
Erskine is permitted to visit her dogs at the animal shelter, but is only able to make the visit once a week since she lives more than 250 miles away.
"Animal service employees, not the officials, have been outstanding to me and my dogs for the most part," Erskine said. "This should not come down on them."
Jessica De Leon, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.