Posted on: March 11, 2022 Posted by: Petsynse Comments: 0

Over the past year, the dogs were stuck at the Anne Arundel County Animal Care and Control facility in Millersville, waiting, while their owners vehemently maintained their innocence and fought for their release.

“These dogs have been sitting on a doggy death row for a crime they didn’t do,” said Stephanie A. Kimbrell, one of the lawyers representing the dogs’ owners.

County officials disagreed, saying Lucy and Odin are vicious: Under a county code known as “Lilo’s Law,” any animal deemed vicious has to be euthanized. Each year, county animal control officials said they have about 2,000 incidents that involve bites, scratches or animal attacks, and of those, less than 1 percent of the animals are found to be vicious.

Odin and Lucy’s battle stands out as an unusually long one with county officials, say animal advocates in the area.

It pitted neighbor against neighbor, drew a slew of social media followers including the county executive, along with pet lovers and animal rescuers, and snagged the attention of media from New York to Detroit. More than 5,000 people signed an online petition — hashtag #freeodinandlucy — that was sent to local council members.

The dogs’ owners said they spent about $25,000 of their own money and donated funds to pay for two lawyers and a fence that county officials ordered them to put up as the case has wended its way through half a dozen administrative hearings, appeals and before a circuit court judge.

The case, animal advocates say, is an example of what happens when the power and pressure of social media combine with a multibillion-dollar industry focused on human love for their pets.

“Most people don’t have the time or money or push to go at it this long in fighting for their pets,” said Wendy Cozzone, a longtime animal rescuer who’s also on the board of the Anne Arundel County Animal Welfare Council.

But Nola Lowman, one of the dogs’ owners, said she was determined: “I drove by the pound probably 10 times a week, and I’d say, ‘Odin and Lucy, I’m going to get you out of there.’ They’re not just dogs to us, they’re my family.”

The case of Lucy and Odin started Jan. 29, 2021.

The pair escaped their ranch-style house, nestled off a winding road, after Lowman left a door open while she was vacuuming her front porch. The dogs went out of their yard, past the family’s miniature goats, a cow, half a dozen chickens and a 250-pound Vietnamese potbellied pig named Porkchop, and into their neighbor Daniel Stinchcomb’s yard — about three-quarters of a mile away.

Stinchcomb was working in his shed and heard dogs growling and barking. When he went to check it out, he saw Odin and Lucy with what he at first thought was a raccoon but then realized was Big Boy, his niece’s cat.

“Odin had Big Boy in his mouth and [was] shaking him back and forth and Lucy was biting at Big Boy’s head,” Stinchcomb said in a witness statement. An animal control officer inspected the cat’s body and saw “several puncture wounds to the cat’s torso and armpit area,” according to court filings. The officer wrote, “It appeared … that the cat’s neck was broken.”

Several attempts to reach Stinchcomb were unsuccessful.

Soon after the cat was found dead, Lowman’s son — William Dillon Jr. — came to the area outside the shed, and when he was told of what happened, animal control officials said in court filings that he was “very sympathetic.” He said he was looking for Lucy and Odin because they had not “returned home ‘like they normally do.’ ”

An animal control officer told Dillon that once he found them he’d need to bring them to the county’s facility. Dillon found the dogs and took them in the next day. The dogs had no “prior incidents” of biting a human or an animal, according to a report from the animal control unit. About two weeks later, Dillon was served with orders saying his dogs were “vicious” because they had “killed or inflicted severe injury on a person or domesticated animal” and they’d have to be put down. He could appeal it but in the meantime, Lucy and Odin had to stay impounded.

“It’s like losing your kids,” said Dillon, 45, who works as a construction foreman. “I took care of them and was always playing with them. Then one day they’re gone.”

Bent on saving the dogs’ lives, Lowman and Dillon launched a barrage of appeals to get the “vicious” label dropped. The case was lobbed back and forth in hearings, commissions and courts, but ultimately, “vicious” was upheld.

“Odin and Lucy were not provoked. Odin and Lucy were not reacting to pain or injury. They were not protecting or defending a person. … They were not defending themselves, their litter, or another animal” the appeals board said in its July 2021 decision. “We have no confidence that Odin and Lucy can be safely maintained without threatening other animals and we, therefore, designate Odin and Lucy as vicious. Once an animal is determined to be ‘vicious’ it must be destroyed. … It is with deep regret that Odin and Lucy suffer this fate.”

Odin and Lucy’s case — and their lives — hinged on a 2017 incident and a law that was about to face a challenge.

Local laws around euthanizing dogs are often passed after unfortunate incidents. In Anne Arundel, a dog named Lilo was killed in 2017 by another dog that was later returned to its owner. In response, the county passed “Lilo’s Law,” which classified animals that kill or cause severe injury to another domesticated animal or human as “vicious” — a label requiring the animal to be euthanized.

However, Lucy and Odin wouldn’t be euthanized until their owners had exhausted all of their appeals, so they went at it again, this time hiring two lawyers — Kimbrell and her boss C. Edward Middlebrooks, who formerly served as a Maryland senator and chair of the county council.

In court filings, the lawyers argued that Stinchcomb, the only eyewitness to the incident, had wrongly accused the dogs and that there was a lack of evidence to prove Lucy and Odin were the perpetrators. Plus, they said, there had been four dead cats found and coyote sightings in the neighborhood since Odin and Lucy were put “behind bars.”

“Clearly, there is a cat serial killer in the neighborhood, but it is impossible for it to be Odin or Lucy,” they claimed in court filings.

The dogs, they argued, didn’t kill Big Boy but came upon the cat after it was already dead and started playing with it as if it were a toy, and that’s what Stinchcomb saw.

The case dragged on until mid-February, when one of the lawyers received an email from the county attorney’s office about making a deal.

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said he’d heard about the case on social media and asked the county attorneys if it could be resolved.

“I was shocked these two dogs would be on death row,” Pittman said. “It should never have gotten that far.”

Pittman said he plans to ask that the county’s rules on deeming pets vicious be examined to make sure there’s “more room for common sense and judgment.”

County attorneys declined to discuss Odin and Lucy’s case.

On Feb. 18, Odin and Lucy’s lives were spared and they were freed, as Lowman and Dillon picked them up and took them home. Dillon cried when he saw the dogs.

Still, the family had to meet some conditions for their release.

They’d be labeled “dangerous” instead of “vicious” because their owners had violated the county’s code on animals running at large. Lowman also had to install a six-foot-tall fence with wiring at the bottom and an “anti-climbing topper” to make sure they didn’t dig or climb their way out of their yard.

On a recent afternoon, Lowman played with her dogs in her fenced-in yard and swelled with joy even as she recalled the expensive year-long battle for their return: “It was well worth fighting for them. I’d do it again.”