Family fights to save dog from scheduled euthanasia
In early summer, Caleb and Lanea Kollenburn's days were filled with caring for their newborn baby and toddler and their pets, including the family dog, Lladk — a 116-pound Alaskan Malamute who loves to cuddle and tote stuffed animals around in his mouth.
Now, the Molalla family is fighting to save Lladk's life. After biting the toddler in July, Lladk faces death by euthanasia.
The Kollenburns rescued Lladk from a dire situation when he had just turned 1 year old. Three years later, the family had made what Lanea calls "leaps and bounds with his rehabilitation."
He learned all the basic commands and then some, including sit, stay, spin, shake, high five, lay down and crawl.
Lladk has been hiking with the family all over Oregon's mountains and woods. He has enjoyed swimming with Caleb's older children. He even often accompanied the Kollenburns to the local bar, where Caleb worked for a time, and celebrated his third birthday there.
The family brushed Lladk once a week and massaged his thighs and shoulders to try to prevent any joint pain.
It was the least they could do for the dog that they considered to be their emotional support animal.
"He was my first baby before I had ever planned or knew I could have kids of my own," Lanea said. "… He has always been there for me all my hard days when I cry or need comfort. … Lladk has helped me tremendously through the time we shared. Anytime I have a rough time or am dealing with something especially sad or stressful, Lladk has always found a way to be at my side."
Lladk even got along well with the other pets — large iguanas, bearded dragons and another dog named Batty. But it wasn't all sunshine and roses after the Kollenburns welcomed their two sons into the family. Especially when their older son became mobile, Caleb and Lanea would catch Lladk growling at him.
They worked with Lladk on this, trying different muzzles and using positive reinforcement training. They were even looking into professional training for aggression with children.
Lladk was sensitive about his food and sensitive when anyone touched his hip area. He also was suffering this summer from a repeat ear infection, and in July, amid the pandemic, the family was waiting on unemployment benefits to pay for his medication. Meanwhile, construction was taking place at the home, and there was a new baby in the house.
And that's when it happened.
The incident — dog bites child
On July 11, Lanea had just woken up from a long night with the new baby. Caleb and their toddler son were making breakfast and watching cartoons. Lladk was sitting in his chair, like always, Lanea said. But when their son headed toward Lladk, Lanea directed the dog out the dog door.
On a typical morning, Lladk would be muzzled, and Caleb would lock the dog door after Lladk went out. But this wasn't a typical morning. Lladk wasn't muzzled, and the dog door didn't get locked behind him.
For the first time ever, the Kollenburns' toddler son slipped out the dog door after Lladk.
"Then we both hear the bark/yell Lladk had let out," Lanea said. "Very quickly realizing what had happened, yelling for Lladk to stop, and he minded immediately and then got away from him."
Lladk inflicted two bite wounds to the toddler's head, requiring six staples for one wound and two staples for the other.
A few days later, Caleb, frazzled, took Lladk to the county shelter for bite quarantine. There, Lanea said a staff member made Caleb, a man who had in the past lost a baby under someone else's supervision, feel hopeless for Lladk. He surrendered ownership of Lladk at that time, according to findings from an evidentiary hearing.
"He felt he panicked, taking the wrong action after the humane society directed him to an inhumane place, Clackamas County Dog Services," Lanea said.
Two days later, Caleb called and emailed asking to reclaim Lladk at the end of the 10-day bite quarantine.
But the family wouldn't get that opportunity.
On July 20, CCDS issued a "notice of intent to classify dog as dangerous dog." The Kollenburns requested a hearing.
At the hearing, the Kollenburns described how they were working on a secure enclosure for Lladk on their property and detailed other ways they could make the dog's return home successful.
"We know we could keep our family safe and take care of this new chapter in our lives," Lanea said. "We don't feel threatened by him whatsoever. He never has tried to hurt us."
Joe Turner, an attorney and hearings officer contracted by Clackamas County, saw the situation differently. In his findings, he described potential flaws in the family's plans— the dog would have to be let out for exercise, young children have little impulse control, the family may not have enough time to work with the dog.
Because of those possibilities and the severity of the attack, Turner found that Lladk "poses too great a hazard to public health and safety, specifically the health and safety of (the Kollenburns') young children."
"The only sure way to protect the public is to require that Lladk be immediately deemed property of the County for purposes of euthanasia," Turner wrote in his findings.
Kollenburns, friends fight for Lladk
The family was determined to fight. They paid the $850-per-month fees to board Lladk and got in touch with Gail O'Connell-Babcock, a volunteer for Citizens for Humane Animal Legislation. O'Connell-Babcock's husband and maritime attorney Robert Babcock agreed to take on the case pro bono.
O'Connell-Babcock and Babcock said, like the Kollenburns, people often are unrepresented at hearings.
"I'm the only guy I know who does this stuff for free," Babcock said.
By the time the family had representation, much of the damage had been done. According to O'Connell-Babcock, new evidence cannot be submitted after the initial hearing, making it difficult to reverse the decision.
Still, Babcock appealed the case in Clackamas County Circuit Court, where the court affirmed Turner's decision.
O'Connell-Babcock pleaded the family's case to the Board of County Commissioners, asking them to take executive action to overturn the verdict in Lladk's case.
The commissioners met to discuss but declined to act.
"In response to your emails about the dog Lladk, the County will be complying with the order of our hearings officer and the circuit court judgement affirming that decision," Christina Terwilliger, clerk to the board, wrote in an email to O'Connell-Babcock.
O'Connell-Babcock said commissioners in other counties do and have intervened in cases like these, and she was disappointed with the refusal.
"It should be unconscionable to any fair-minded person in government to kill an animal when humane options exist," O'Connell-Babcock wrote back to the commissioners. "To do so, kill anyway, in the light of humane options, knowing well that Lladk is Lanea's emotional support service animal is unjust and shocking."
O'Connell-Babcock argues that the Kollenburns did not experience a fair process — that other options, as outlined in county dog code, should have been considered. But county attorney Scott Ciecko insists the county did provide the Kollenburns a fair process and that the hearings officer did consider all applicable criteria before rendering the decision that the dog should be euthanized.
Now, three animal rehabilitation facilities have offered to take on Lladk. With no other options left, the Kollenburns are willing to part with Lladk permanently and send him to a sanctuary to save his life.
So, with these rescue options now available, Babcock is filing a motion to set aside the judgment.
Babcock thinks the motion has merit, but Ciecko doesn't expect it to be successful.
"I believe the decision of the hearings officer — as well as the circuit court judgment — are both lawful, so to me it appears unlikely that the judgment will be set aside," Ciecko said. "Obviously, that will be up to the judge."
Both O'Connell-Babcock and Babcock have suggested Clackamas County's dog code is not specific enough and leaves too much discretion to the hearings officer.
When asked if commissioners would consider amending county code, county spokesperson Kimberly Dinwiddie-Webb responded with the following.
"Clackamas County is committed to ensuring safe, healthy and secure communities," Dinwiddie-Webb said. "The current County Dog Code, which mirrors the state requirements, helps us do just that. While dogs bring joy, warmth and love for many, we support hard decisions county staff and hearings officers make to keep our community safe."
The motion to set the judgment aside is still in process. Babcock still has the option of appealing the court of appeals decision as well, but the clock is ticking.
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