Brainerd dog owners challenge dangerous dog designation
A presa canario dog remains at home with her family in Brainerd after a controversial dangerous dog designation the owners say has no substance.
At their June 15 meeting, Brainerd City Council members voted 6-1 to designate Rayne — owned by Joshua Hall and Erika Olson — a dangerous dog. Dave Pritschet opposed the measure.
The two incidents leading up to the designation occurred in January and April. Rayne was deemed potentially dangerous in January, and the owners did not appeal that designation. An April incident led to the dangerous dog designation, which Olson vehemently spoke out against during a city council appeal hearing.
Olson testified first, maintaining Animal Control Officer Mike O’Brien falsified reports, lied about her dog and came onto her property without permission.
“There’s so many inconsistencies as far as time — everything — with this man’s reporting,” she said June 15. “It shows he has no credibility, no honesty, no integrity.”
Olson questioned O’Brien’s account of the January incident when Rayne allegedly growled at him, saying Rayne has never growled at anyone and especially loves men.
“She would jump into any strange man’s car, she loves men so much,” Olson said, noting O’Brien either made the story up or provoked the dog.
In April, when Rayne allegedly attacked another dog, Olson said Rayne was only loose for about 8 minutes before her kids made her aware and she located her dog. Olson said she found Rayne in a different yard than that of the dog she allegedly attacked and noted there was only one witness to the incident.
“I think what happened was our dog rushed in, she got excited, she wanted to play,” Olson said. “And this woman saw a giant dog in comparison with her little dog, and she panicked and freaked out and screamed.”
Given Rayne’s large size and the other dog’s small size, Olson said if Rayne really did attack her there would have been prominent injuries.
“Our dog is not an aggressive dog. She is very family friendly,” Olson said, noting Rayne is on her way to becoming an emotional support dog for Olson’s son.
“I don’t believe any of this,” she continued. “I think this woman was scared, and I think she just had a little bit of hysteria going on.”
O’Brien began his part by saying he has never been in Olson’s yard but once took pictures of a hole in her fence while standing in a public alley.
According to O’Brien’s testimony, Rayne got loose Jan. 9, and he first located her in a yard on 11th Street Southeast. He said she ran, and he followed her in his truck to a little creek by Willow Street across from 13th Street Southeast. When he reached out with his choke pole to grab the dog, O’Brien said she snarled and aggressively approached him. Fearing for his safety, O’Brien said he struck her on the head with the pole and did not injure her but subdued her enough to get her in his truck and take her to Heartland Animal Rescue Team.
O’Brien said he later talked with Olson at HART and explained he would be labeling Rayne a potentially dangerous dog.
The next incident occurred April 22, when O’Brien said he got a call that Rayne attacked a terrier mix. When he got to the residence near Hall and Olson’s home, O’Brien said Rayne was still in the yard. He said the other dog, Charm, was slobbery and covered in debris.
During her testimony, Charm’s owner Kathy Rolf said she saw Rayne put her mouth around Charm’s neck area before flipping the smaller dog in the air. She said her husband tried to chase off Rayne, who growled at him before finally running off. Rolf said Charm was really shaken up.
When Pritschet asked during the council hearing if Charm was physically injured, Rolf said there was no blood but some marks she could not otherwise explain. When Pritschet asked if Charm was tender or limping or anything, Rolf said: “Well, she was tender. She kind of had a little bit of a limp.” She said Charm has played with big dogs before.
Both Pritschet and council member Kelly Bevans said they didn’t believe this dog was necessarily dangerous.
Bevans said he has owned large dogs and understands their presence can be imposing to both humans and smaller dogs.
“I hate to be direct, but I think the problem is with the dog owner,” he said. “The dog owner seems to not want to take care of their dog, and there should be some repercussions against the dog owner, but I’m not sure the dog is as much the problem as the owner is.”
Pritschet agreed and said if Rayne had actually attacked Charm there would have been more damage done.
Council member Kevin Stunek noted there is a city ordinance that says dogs cannot be off their property without a leash, and council member Wayne Erickson said he worries about the dog harming someone in the future if the council doesn’t take action.
O’Brien said Rayne likely would not have any further issues if she simply had an enclosed yard. Olson said it’s not that she and Hall don’t take care of their dog or don’t have proper fencing but that they have three kids who constantly open doors.
Bevans said he was against having Rayne euthanized but motioned to designate her dangerous and require the owners to provide a proper enclosure, license, proof of vaccinations and proof of a $300,000 public liability insurance policy within 14 days. Those requirements fall under the state statute regarding dangerous dogs.
Olson said the hole in their fence is now fixed, and they also have an underground electric fence, which O’Brien said is not always effective for large dogs.
All council members except Pritschet approved the motion.
If all these things were not taken care of in 14 days, the council directed O’Brien to come back to the council and give a further update.
That update came at the council’s meeting Monday, July 6, when O’Brien said the owners met all the requirements except the insurance. The policy they got, he said, only covers the dog on their own property. O’Brien said he spoke with an agent at the agency — Amelia Underwriters — who said they aren’t able to provide the insurance needed for Rayne.
Council member Jan Lambert asked if there are insurance agencies that do cover dangerous dogs, and O’Brien said there are but it is usually extremely expensive.
Under city ordinance, the next step is for the animal control officer to seize the dog and give the owners another 14 days to provide proof of compliance with all the requirements. The owners will also be financially responsible for the cost of boarding during that time. If the requirements are not met within that two-week period, the dog may be put down.
The council voted to direct O’Brien to seize Rayne and take her to HART. Pritschet voted against the motion, as he was opposed to the dangerous dog designation in the first place.
During the public forum at the end of the meeting, Olson said she felt like she never got a fair hearing or sufficient time to tell her side of the story. She also noted there was only one witness to the alleged attack in April, no photos or video for proof, and alleged Rolf’s story changed from the original incident report to her testimony at the hearing.
The Dispatch later obtained the incident report written by O’Brien. Hall provided the report, which was sent to him by staff at Severson Porter Law, the city’s misdemeanor prosecutor. In the report, O’Brien wrote Rolf said Rayne had pinned Charm to the ground with her month and was growling aggressively.
“Kathy (Rolf) screamed and yelled at the aggressive dog, and it let go of their dog and walked about 15 feet away and sat down,” the report stated.
The report did not state anything about Rayne throwing Charm up into the air, as Rolf said during the council hearing. O’Brien could not be reached by phone for comment. O’Brien responded to a message and left a voicemail saying he was out of the state with little cell service but any questions would have to be directed to the city attorney.
After the council meetings
Olson and Hall — who believed their original insurance policy was sufficient — refused to give up Rayne when O’Brien attempted to seize the dog and take her to HART July 7, the day following the second council meeting. Olson said they had bad experiences with HART in the past and would have preferred Rayne to be taken elsewhere, like the Babinski Foundation in Pequot Lakes, but were not allowed to make such arrangements. The owners were issued citations for obstructing the legal process but soon obtained acceptable insurance and were able to keep Rayne, partially thanks to a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $2,000 to help with costs.
Neighbor Jessica Bement-Eggleston spoke to the Dispatch July 7 to vouch for Rayne’s docile temper and express her upset over O’Brien, who she said was harassing Olson and Hall by parking his truck on their street and watching their house before attempting to seize Rayne.
“This man thinks it’s OK to sit in front of these houses on our taxpayers’ money to harass these people and stalk these people,” Bement-Eggleston said. “And I personally know them, and I know their dog, and their dog is harmless.”
Bement-Eggleston said she has been around Rayne with her small children and never had an issue. And as an owner of large dogs herself, she said she worries O’Brien could target her next.
“If he can target their dog and push buttons and have the city council fall for all of his nonsense, why can’t he do it to us?” she said. “What’s going to stop him from doing it to every single large dog owner on this block? I don’t think it’s fair.”
Bement-Eggleston said she would rather see the city contract with Northern Lakes Rescue or the Babinski Foundation for animal control services.
“I just want to be another voice from this neighborhood because I think it’s gone too far,” she said. “And the city council needs to wake the hell up, and the people of Brainerd need to see what their money is paying for.”