If one more incident happens in the city, a pitbull deemed dangerous by the Brainerd City Council after biting its owner will be euthanized.
Council members unanimously voted to deem Hank the pitbull mix, owned by Brittani Joppru, dangerous during a hearing July 20.
According to a report from Animal Control Officer Mike O’Brien, the incident leading to the dangerous dog designation occurred June 29 at an apartment at 1205 1/2 Mill Ave. in Brainerd. Hank bit Joppru on the arm, an injury that required hospital care. Joppru defended her dog’s actions during the hearing as she appealed the dangerous dog designation.
Joppru said Hank was provoked by the child of a friend she had over to her apartment. The child, she said, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and was squealing and fake crying.
“I could notice Hank getting nervous about it, so I just directed him to the bedroom,” Joppru said, noting Hank then became more agitated and bit her on the arm while she tried ushering him into a bedroom.
Joppru noted the child was not her son, as was stated in the original report. Hank and her son are best friends, she said.
Shortly after the attack — which left Joppru with several puncture wounds in her arm — Joppru said she wanted Hank to be euthanized. During the hearing, she said that was a “heat of the moment” decision and she later decided she wanted to keep the dog.
“It was just a bad situation that I should not have put my dog in,” she said during the hearing, noting she had just gotten back from a 1,500-mile drive from Florida and that may have had something to do with Hank’s behavior.
Hank was first brought to Heartland Animal Rescue Team in Brainerd before being transferred to the Babinski Foundation in Pequot Lakes.
According to a letter from HART Executive Director Donna Wambeke and Shelter Manager Brittany Nelson, at the end of Hank’s 10-day hold at HART, the blood from the attack was still on Hank’s fur, as no staff members were able to touch him safely due to aggressive behavior. The letter stated Hank was moved from one kennel to another via a trap door pulley system for daily cleaning and feeding. It also stated when staff walked past Hank’s kennel, the hair on his back stood up and he growled loudly while attacking the kennel gate.
“That’s not who he is,” Joppru said. “I’ve had him since he was a puppy. He is great around kids. He’s been around kids his whole life.”
For further evaluation, Joppru took Hank to the Babinski Foundation, where she said staff had no issues with him at all. Since Monday’s meeting he was scheduled to be neutered, she said, and he was seeing a behavioral therapist regularly.
Joppru said she would never want Hank to hurt anyone else but does not believe he should be marked dangerous, as the attack was provoked.
According to state statute, the definition of a dangerous dog is a dog that: inflicts substantial bodily harm on a human without provocation; kills a domestic animal without provocation while off the owner’s property; or aggressively bites, attacks or endangers the safety of humans or domestic animals after being designated potentially dangerous.
According to records from the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office, Hank was deemed a potentially dangerous dog after an incident in 2016 on Hartley Lake Road north of Brainerd. Joppru said she plans to send Hank to live there with her ex-husband after this most recent incident.
Melissa Kinnard, an advocate for owners of dangerous and potentially dangerous dogs, also defended Hank during the hearing. Kinnard, who said she helps dangerous dog owners become compliant with regulations, said the attack was provoked and she would like to have Hank reevaluated after either six months or a year of training.
“I think that this dog was provoked,” Kinnard said. “He had just been on a 1,500-mile road trip. He was in a home with a screaming child. The owner tried to remove the dog from the situation and upset the dog, and the dog bit her.”
O’Brien, who owns Lakes Area Wildlife Control and acts as the city’s animal control officer, said he stood by his report. He said he arrived on the scene of the incident as Joppru left in an ambulance but talked to Joppru’s boyfriend Lee Morcumb, who was present for the attack. O’Brien said he had a hard time securing Hank — who was agitated — but Morcumb eventually helped him secure the dog so he could be transported to HART. O’Brien said Hank was still pretty aggressive upon arriving at HART.
According to state statute, provocation means “an act that an adult could reasonably expect may cause a dog to attack or bite.”
“I would say that a crying child is probably not provocation,” O’Brien said. “And if it is, that’s alarming a little bit, I think, because kids cry.”
Incident in Florida
A previous incident occurred when Joppru visited Florida earlier this month, when, according to Citrus County Animal Services, Hank bit Joppru’s stepfather Geof Goodell in the arm during a dispute between Goodell and Joppru. Then, according to the report, Hank turned and bit Joppru on both arms and in the stomach area.
The dog was put on a 10-day hold in Florida following the incident before returning to Minnesota.
According to O’Brien’s report on the most recent incident, Goodell — who lives in Florida — said the dog was dangerous and should not be let back in Joppru’s house, as she has a young son.
Before council members discussed the designation, City Attorney Joe Langel reminded them of the criteria under state statute to designate a dog dangerous. Two of the three scenarios fit this incident he said, as Hank is said to have inflicted substantial bodily harm on a human without provocation, and the incident occurred after he was designated potentially dangerous.
Council member Dave Pritschet immediately moved to classify the dog as dangerous, due to the fact he bit someone after being categorized as potentially dangerous.
Council member Jan Lambert seconded the motion and said she felt the owner’s initial desire to have Hank euthanized was significant.
“She was concerned also,” Lambert said. “From the degree of the injury and the fact that a child was involved, I do believe this dog fits (the dangerous) category.”
Council President Gabe Johnson agreed with both Pritschet’s and Lambert’s thoughts, adding he believed the attack was also unprovoked.
“I have two young boys, and all they do is yell and run around and fake cry, so I just don’t think that a reasonable adult would think that that would cause a dog to bite somebody,” Johnson said. “So I would think on both counts, really, it could be classified as dangerous.”
Council member Kevin Stunek said the severity of the injuries Hank inflicted on Joppru should speak for itself.
“If I had a dog like that, it would be gone,” Stunek said.”And just the idea that you put that young child in danger is just not right.”
The council voted unanimously to uphold the dangerous dog designation.
Normally when a dog is designated dangerous in Brainerd, the council has the authority to impose certain conditions on the dog and the owners — like a fenced-in yard, a muzzle requirement and liability insurance. But because Joppru does not intend for Hank to continue living in Brainerd, Langel said the owners would have to register the dog with his new jurisdiction — in this case, Crow Wing County — and would have to follow any conditions set by that jurisdiction. But the council could, Langel said, put conditions on the dog should it ever be in Brainerd again.
Johnson asked why the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office did not handle this incident, as that was the entity that designated Hank potentially dangerous, and Brainerd still lies within Crow Wing County. In this case, Langel said the county only has jurisdiction where a city does not.
Council member Kelly Bevans then motioned to have Hank euthanized if he is ever picked up for an incident in Brainerd again. Pritschet seconded the motion, and the rest of the council agreed.
Mayor Dave Badeaux — who does not vote except in the case of a tie — said he was surprised by that decision but noted it was the council’s decision to make.