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Hastings family fights to keep pet

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J.D., a 71-pound Staffordshire Terrier, was deemed a danger to the public Monday at a special city council hearing.

The dog's owners came to the council with an appeal of the designation assigned by the police department after J.D. jumped on his 9-year-old neighbor and bit him on the back without provocation.

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This is the first time in at least 10 years that there has been a hearing on a dangerous dog appeal, said city attorney Dan Fluegel.

After listening to witness accounts of the incident from police officer David Bauer, homeowners Thomas and Colleen Corbin, dog owner Misty Corbin and her brother, the council took little time to agree that the dog should be considered dangerous.

City code has only a few specific requirements to determine if a dog is dangerous, and no exceptions.

"It's quite clear," Mayor Paul Hicks said.

City code defines a dangerous dog as one that inflicts substantial bodily harm on a human on public or private property without provocation, or one that kills a domestic animal without provocation while off the owner's property.

None of the witnesses denied that the dog had, for seemingly no reason, jumped on the boy and bit him. Photos of the boy's back taken at the hospital served as evidence of the extent of his injuries.

Councilmember Tony Alongi made it clear that the dog was not determined dangerous because of its breed.

"I don't believe in dangerous breeds," he said.

Rather, he suggested that the dog may be dangerous by statute, and that perhaps the incident is the result of a gap in training.

According to all accounts, the victim was a regular playmate of the dog's prior to the incident.

"He actually described the dog as his friend," Bauer said.

The afternoon of Aug. 12, the boy came to the Corbins' yard to play with the dog and had with him some sort of whistle or toy that made a sound similar to that of a common squeaky dog toy. Colleen, Misty's mother, was in the yard with the boy. The toy, she said, concerned her some, so she asked the boy to put it away in his pocket, which she claimed he did, and she put the dog inside the house.

Later, Thomas let the dog out of the house, and the dog ran up to the boy, jumped on him, and bit him in the back.

Misty Corbin's appeal attempted to show that her dog's behavior after the incident proves he's not a danger.

J.D.'s fight against officer Bauer while he tried to guide him with an animal control pole was a natural animal reaction to being choked, Misty's brother testified. He was present while Bauer took custody of the dog. Thomas testified that once the dog realized what he had done was wrong, he submitted, and that he obeyed Thomas's verbal commands first to back away from the victim and also to get into Bauer's squad car.

Thomas said he doesn't think the dog is dangerous, but that he needs more training.

A letter from the veterinarian where the dog was impounded vouched that J.D. had been well behaved during his stay there and that he had never shown any aggression to any of the staff or other dogs.

City definitions, however, offer no exceptions for otherwise good behavior.

The city council's decision places a set of requirements on J.D.'s owner. She is obligated to register the dog with the city, and along with that registration comes other requirements. If she keeps the dog, Misty will have to pay an annual fee to the city to have the dog registered as dangerous. The city will provide a tag to be worn on the collar at all times. She will also have to ensure that the dog is kept in a proper enclosure, have a microchip implanted into him, and carry liability insurance. The declaration can be appealed every six months.

If Misty does not comply with the requirements, the police department can seize the dog again and have it destroyed.

When asked if she intends to meet the requirements and keep the dog, Misty stated that she does not plan to keep the dog. Instead she said she will try to find a no-kill animal shelter to take him in or have him put down.

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Katrina Styx
Katrina Styx has been a reporter for the Hastings Star Gazette since 2010. She has a bachelor's degree in English with a minor in journalism from the University of Wisconsin - River Falls. Prior to coming to Hastings, Katrina reported for weekly newspapers in Jordan, Minn., and River Falls, Wis.
(651) 319-4501
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