How we lost our beloved Sheltie, Buster

by Rick Halley
Special to Sun Thisweek
Dakota County Tribune

Rick and Kandy Halley’s dog, Buster, suffered severe injuries and later died from an attack by a Great Dane in Faith Park in Apple Valley.
Rick and Kandy Halley’s dog, Buster, suffered severe injuries and later died from an attack by a Great Dane in Faith Park in Apple Valley.

On Oct. 23, my wife, Kandy, was walking our dog, Buster, down Findlay Avenue and then turned onto a path at Faith Park in Apple Valley.  This was the same path she and our Sheltie had traveled down hundreds of times over the past six years. The two had encountered numerous dogs of all sizes on this path and had never experienced any problems until this particular Sunday afternoon walk.

As Kandy and Buster approached the path a petite, older woman walking her Great Dane appeared. Never has Kandy or Buster encountered this woman or her dog in all the years of walking this same path. In a matter of seconds, the Great Dane pulled away from his owner and lunged after Kandy and Buster.

The owner of the Great Dane was unable to control or stop her dog and reportedly fell down during the incident. Again, in just a matter of seconds, the Great Dane viciously picked up Buster with his mouth and shook Buster violently.  Kandy tried to punch and kick the Great Dane as well as tried to pull Buster away, but each time, the Great Dane continued to attack and bite Buster. The Great Dane bit him deeply no fewer than three different times.

The incident was the most horrific experience anyone could imagine. Once Buster was able to run away, the owner of the Great Dane was finally able to get control of her dog.  Kandy was able to get away and immediately ran after Buster, who knew his way home, and despite his severe injuries and broken leg, he was able to follow the path toward home. Kandy immediately called me to come to the path right away and to call 911.

I quickly arrived with our vehicle.  We had great difficulty getting Buster into our vehicle due to the severe injuries and he was crying out in pain as we tried picking him up.  Finally we used a blanket to lift Buster into the vehicle to rush him to the animal hospital in Apple Valley.

The Apple Valley Animal Hospital did an excellent job in caring for Buster. They performed surgery that night. That evening Kandy sought medical attention for a dog bite. The next day Kandy transported Buster to the University of Minnesota veterinary clinic for treatment and further surgeries. Despite the endless efforts by the skilled and knowledgeable staff at the University of Minnesota, Buster’s little body could not sustain the multiple injuries, and four days later, our sweet, innocent Buster passed away.

Two weeks later, after we had very little time to mourn the loss of Buster and as we were still trying to heal from this horrible nightmare, we received a letter on the afternoon of Nov. 16. The letter was inviting us to participate in an appeals hearing. The Great Dane’s owner was appealing the city’s determination that the Great Dane had been deemed dangerous. There would be a hearing on a Friday evening. We were in complete shock.

How could anyone even question whether this dog was dangerous?  He just killed our beloved Buster. What more is there to dispute? Did we need to show Buster’s ashes to the hearing officer, the mayor, the police department or city council for proof?

We learned the following day that the owner of the Great Dane had 10-14 days to prepare for this appeal, while we had less than 48 hours to pull together our testimony. When we spoke to the Apple Valley Police Department they said they were glad we had received the notice in time since the notice hadn’t been sent out until late on Monday. (Another problem with this whole experience.) Now our grief had quickly turned to anger and to our strong desire to defend our Buster and our neighborhood against this scary animal that still lived just a block from our home, and from our daughter.  And just one house away from a small child.

I was hoping the city’s stricter dog ordinance would be enough to protect my wife and daughter, the neighborhood kids and all the visitors to our neighborhood.  In the meantime, I tried to find out from the city how many potentially dangerous dogs are in Apple Valley. What I find to be a bit concerning is that they were not able to get this information for me.  I did find a November 2007 St. Paul Pioneer Press article, written by Maricella Miranda, which claims there were 33 potentially dangerous dogs in Apple Valley. In the same article, five dogs in Apple Valley that year were deemed dangerous. Three of those dogs were euthanized.  Does anyone know where these potentially dangerous dogs reside?

I talked to the local police department and they said that with the change to the stricter ordinances there had been an increase in the number of hearings. This is something the city should also review.  Some cases such as this one are simple —  there’s a dead animal, nothing you should be able to say should be deemed worthy of a hearing.

I contacted local doggie daycares and was disappointed to learn that they do not receive a list of dangerous and potentially dangerous dogs from the city. The businesses claimed they were on an honor system with their dog owners.  One of the businesses even claimed her own dog was cited as a potentially dangerous dog.  While I was waiting for the decision, we made an easy decision — we’d no longer use local daycares that do not request the city’s registered dog list.  Had simple questions been asked this whole event possibly could have been avoided. As a result, we won’t use local daycares that do not have you complete an updated information form each time you leave your dog.  By the way, the Great Dane’s owner had even gotten a letter from one of the local doggie daycares in which the daycare said the Great Dane got along well with others.  The problem with the honor system is the Great Dane’s owner had forgotten to mention to the daycare that her dog had just killed ours.

I contacted our dog’s local vet. The vet had sent us a sympathy card when Buster had passed away.  They knew this had happened. Yet, they have no system in place to separate potentially dangerous dogs or dangerous dogs from the other dogs or cats that come to their business.  There is a list of registered dogs they could refer to from the city, but they choose not to look at it. This dog was not registered with the city and the clinic didn’t know they were treating a dangerous dog. (Our dogs went to the same clinic).  Had they looked at this list, this whole event could have possibly been prevented. If profits come before safety then we will find a different vet for our new pup. A vet that makes the safety of his or her customers, workers and the other animals a priority is the type of vet we are seeking.

The days slowly passed since the hearing. I remember reading as I was researching a quote by City Council Member Tom Goodwin (reported in the 2007 St. Paul Pioneer Press article) where he said, “I do believe some of the dogs that are … considered potentially dangerous, you can make an argument that’s no longer the case.” He was referring to pups that mess up and maybe deserve another chance.  But would the city’s stricter ordinance be enough?

Finally, on Nov. 28, the decision was made. The police were to tell the owner that the hearing officer upheld Apple Valley’s decision — the Great Dane would remain a dangerous dog.  The ordinance protected its residents — at least for now.  A possible hearing could follow in 180 days if I understand the ordinance. But from all the police I have spoken to, the message is clear: The council, the mayor and the police department have no tolerance of dangerous dogs in Apple Valley.  The Great Dane is gone.

It’s been an especially difficult month for my wife. I want to personally thank the Apple Valley mayor, the City Council, the hearing officer, and all the police that were involved with this case.  Thanks to our friends, family, and neighbors for all the beautiful flowers and cards, and thanks to the mystery person who left flowers in our yard. I would encourage the mayor and City Council to review the dog ordinance.  More communication is needed, and far fewer hearings will make Apple Valley’s residents and dogs safer.  The ordinance however did prove to be a great start. We thank everyone involved for their leadership and for the enforcement.

Kandy has not walked down that path since the accident. But it’s good to know, if she does choose to do it, she will feel safe, and I will feel safer knowing nothing dangerous awaits.

Rick Halley is an Apple Valley resident. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.