Manatee animal shelter closes as protesters fight order to kill dogs Buck and Bill

jdeleon@bradenton.comMarch 27, 2014 

MANATEE -- Manatee County is moving forward with the euthanization of two dogs after a judge ruled to uphold a county order to kill the dogs.

Buck and Bill were seized by Manatee County Animal Services shortly after Dec. 24, 2012, when the dogs bit a 13-year-old boy three times. The county has maintained for more than a year that the dogs are dangerous and must be destroyed because of the severity of the boy's injuries, according to Florida statute.

Karen Erskine, owner of the two Australian shepherds and a nationally ranked dog trainer, has been fighting the seizure and kill order since then, arguing the animals were unlawfully taken from her home and that they have suffered while in the county's possession.

But the latest court order, signed March 25 by Manatee County Judge Charles Sniffen, denied a motion by the dog's owner that sought temporary injunctive relief.

The county, she said, is not allowing Erskine to say goodbye to her two dogs.

"I was told I could be with my dogs on the last day and hold them and say goodbye to them," Erskine said Wednesday, sobbing. "They won't even tell me if they are alive."

The animal services' facilities were closed Wednesday "for the protection of staff, just as a precaution," county spokeswoman Amy Pilson said.

The dogs have not yet been euthanized and the county attorney's office is reviewing the order, Pilson said Wednesday afternooon.

"We don't know how long that will take," she said.

Just after 1 p.m., Animal Services employees were sent home. Manatee County Sheriff's deputies opened the gates as a procession of employees in their vehicles left the grounds.

At least one deputy remained on the premises after employees departed.

The sheriff's office said a deputy would not be standing guard all night but would be checking on the facility from time to time, according to spokesman Dave Bristow.

"It's distressing and disappointing," said Erskine's attorney, Cara Barrick. "It's my understanding that they are not allowing her to say goodbye.

"I have reached out to the county's attorney and asked him if the county would show compassion and do the kind thing and let her," Barrick added. "They are family."

Erskine was gathered outside the facility's shuttered gates most of Wednesday with about a dozen supporters. They scoffed at the idea they were considered a threat prompting the county closing the shelter as a safety precaution.

"This is horrendous," Lori Filicetti said. "We are 100 percent behind Karen. The court system has failed her."

Filicetti, from 11th Hour Rescue in New Jersey, helps to manage the Manatee No Kill Facebook page and was outside Animal Services with Erskine on Wednesday.

"We are trying to get this to go viral," Filicetti said. "There are so many supporters who are behind Karen and looking to see that the county is held accountable."

On Dec. 24, 2012, the dogs got out a window from the home Erskine was staying in the 22600 block of Morning Glory Circle in Bradenton and bit a boy who was riding his bicycle nearby.

The boy suffered "multiple bites, which required sutures and reconstructive surgery, and left substantial scarring," according to a hearing officer's report.

The report, which followed an administrative hearing on Feb. 1, 2013, decided the dogs must be destroyed because the child's injuries were "not only serious, it also clearly resulted in severe injury as defined by statute."

Erskine has maintained it was an accident and someone must have provoked the animals for them to act so uncharacteristically. She believes that someone broke into the home because of the mess she found when she got home. Law enforcement, she said, never investigated this possibility.

Erskine has also argued the dogs should not have been taken from her and that her constitutional rights were violated when animal services entered the home to remove the dogs.

But Sniffen's latest ruling shot down that argument, stating that could have been addressed in earlier proceedings.

Jessica De Leon, law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. Follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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