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Lanea Kollenburn: 'We of course love our children and would never put them in harm's way, but the totality of circumstances must be considered'

The Kollenburns of Molalla, owners of the dog Lladk, are suing Clackamas County and the Clackamas Board of County Commissioners in federal court for discrimination and asking for Lladk to be returned home.

The issue has been ongoing since July when Lladk bit Lanea and Caleb Kollenburn's then 15-month-old son on the head after the toddler had escaped out the doggy door, and Lladk was subsequently sentenced to euthanasia.

COURTESY PHOTO - Lanea Kollenburn poses with her toddler son one week after the incident.

Kollenburns sought accommodations

After a long and futile battle, in December prior to filing the lawsuit, the family enlisted the help of animal law attorney, Adam Karp, and asked the county for reasonable accommodations under federal and state law because Lanea and Caleb both suffer from emotional disabilities, and Lladk is their service dog.

Lladk qualifies as a service animal and assistance animal, having been trained by the Kollenburns to perform tasks and functions to help with Lanea's and Caleb's disabilities, and he also qualifies as an emotional support animal, according to the lawsuit.

After the county and its judges had repeatedly upheld the initial decision to euthanize and repeatedly threatened to schedule euthanasia, county spokesperson Kimberly Dinwiddie indicated that they paused to take the reasonable accommodation claim seriously. So, the county's assistant attorney, Scott Ciecko, entered into negotiations with Karp.

The family asked for Lladk to be returned under strict conditions such as keeping Lladk in an enclosure, posting "Beware of Dog" signs, purchasing insurance and more. As a fallback, the Kollenburns would consider sending Lladk to a rescue they approved of.

"Such events can be easily prevented. With all due respect, an idiot would know that." — Gail O'Connell-Babcock, animal rights advocate

Amid negotiations, County Attorney Stephen L. Madkour threatened to report the Kollenburns to the Department of Human Services as a mandatory reporter of child abuse, per the lawsuit. One member of the board of county commissioners, Sonya Fischer, also said she would report them to DHS. The Kollenburns took this as a discriminatory and retaliatory act, according to the lawsuit.

On Tuesday, Jan. 12, the county commissioners declined to send Lladk home or to Best Friends Animal Society because the shelter could not guarantee they would never rehome Lladk.

Instead, the county again scheduled euthanasia for at earliest, 24 hours later.

Ciecko said that decisions in these matters are made on a case-by-case basis depending on specific circumstances. However, it's possible a previous case may come into play here. Ciecko noted that in a prior case, the circuit court ordered a dog to be returned to a family, and the dog subsequently bit and injured a child.

"Although the county was not at fault in any way for that prior incident, the risk that this dog Lladk might bite and injure another person is the primary concern being evaluated," Ciecko said.

Of course, those who have been advocating against euthanasia were furious with the decision, including Gail O'Connell-Babcock, an animal rights advocate who has been helping the Kollenburns since early on.

"It is barbaric that the only way the county can feel 'safe' is to kill a service dog with an extensive pro social history," O'Connell-Babcock said in an email to county commissioners, "following a single preventable, provoked incident with a toddler who went back to playing that afternoon with the only treatment (being) sutures to his head, antibiotics and Tylenol. … Such events can be easily prevented. With all due respect, an idiot would know that."

Euthanasia prohibited for now

With no options remaining, later that day, Tuesday, Jan. 12, Karp filed the federal lawsuit along with a request for a temporary restraining order that would prevent the county from euthanizing Lladk until a hearing can take place regarding the federal suit.

"Without immediate assistance, they will continue to stare down, with terrifying trepidation, the guillotine poised above Lladk's neck," Karp said in his motion for a TRO. "And if it is released, Lladk will be killed, and the Kollenburns forever haunted by such ignominious slaying."

With the request, Lanea also submitted a declaration, in which she described the distress she and Caleb are under.

"My husband and I are overwhelmed by grief and terror that our beloved Lladk will be killed under circumstances that were not his fault," Lanea said. "We, of course, love our children and would never put them in harm's way, but the totality of circumstances must be considered, including our love and commitment to Lladk, who is also a member of our family and assistance animal."

Judge Marco Hernandez, the chief district judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, granted the TRO, prohibiting the county from euthanizing Lladk until further order of the court. The restraining order will remain in effect until the conclusion of the next hearing.

"... This just makes no sense to me that they're wanting to kill this dog. It's completely disproportionate to any realistic method of animal control regulation." — Adam Karp, animal law attorney

In the federal lawsuit, the family seeks attorney's fees and costs associated with this process and suggests their rights were violated under the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Federal Fair Housing Act and the Oregon Law Against Discrimination.

Each of the Kollenburns have a qualifying disability documented by a physician.

"Caleb has crippling depression and intense, incapacitating anxiety that does not allow him to function in society to his fullest potential," the suit says. "His anxiety can become so immense as to make him speechless and lose his train of thought. When so seized, Lladk would come to him, providing comfort and immediately ameliorating his conditions to help him proceed daily and with past trauma. Their bond is irreplaceable."

COURTESY PHOTO - Lladk, an Alaskan Malamute, nestles his head under Lanea Kollenburn's neck.

Lanea too suffers from chronic, major depression and significant anxiety, and Lladk similarly and reliably aids her, per the suit.

"We don't admit that [Lladk is] dangerous," Karp said. "We think that there's some defects in that disposition. But for the sake of argument, even if he is, you need to make allowance for the fact that he's an assistance animal and that depriving him of being with my clients causes them great harm."

While housed at the county, Lladk has demonstrated friendliness and no signs of aggression, per notes from staff.

The suit asks to nullify the "dangerous dog" label, to nullify orders of euthanasia and to return Lladk to the family, or again as a fallback, to consider rescue options.

In July, a hearings officer contracted by Clackamas County found that Lladk met the county definition of a dangerous dog in having bitten a person without provocation and demanded that Lladk be deemed property of the county for purposes of euthanasia.

However, the Kollenburns and Karp contend that the bite was provoked. Lanea said based on her son's previous behavior, she believes he pounced on Lladk's legs and potentially bit him.

"Indeed, [my son] had bitten Caleb's leg the previous week and had a penchant for gnawing on and biting soft furry items as he was teething," Lanea said in the declaration.

In July, even Clackamas County Dog Services described the incident as provoked.

Furthermore, the family and Karp argue that Lladk showed restraint by damaging only skin and by stopping on command.

One experienced animal trainer, John McNamara, suggested Lladk may have even been protecting the toddler and attempting to bring him back to safety by trying to carry him by the neck.

However, according to Karp, Clackamas County animal code does not take provocation into account. He also indicated that both Clackamas County code and state code allow hearings officers too much discretion.

So, changing the codes is another part of what the Kollenburns are asking for in the federal suit.

The suit also argues that while Lladk is considered property, and was unlawfully taken from the family, he should also be considered as a sentient being whose rights are relevant in the dispute.

"At the end of the day, I step back, and I look at the big picture and I'm thinking, what the heck went wrong here with the county? I just don't get it," Karp said. "I've handled hundreds of dangerous dog cases. I've defended a large number of dogs. And I represented victims of dogs who are bad. So, I see it from both sides, and this just makes no sense to me that they're wanting to kill this dog. It's completely disproportionate to any realistic method of animal control regulation."

The attorneys proposed that a hearing should take place the first week of February. For updates and information on how to help, visit the Justice for Lladk Facebook page.

Kristen Wohlers
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