MUSKEGON, Mich. – Wildlife authorities are investigating after a little girl in Michigan lost her arm at the edge of a “wolf dog” enclosure in her grandmother’s animal sanctuary.
Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said authorities seized 15 animals from the Howling Timbers Animal Sanctuary and found another 47 “illegal” wolf-dog hybrids that were left on-site.
As the name suggests, those animals are crossbreeds that have a mix of dog and wolf genetics. Authorities are blaming one of them for the toddler’s injury, although Howling Timbers wrote on its Facebook page that the girl was not bitten, but rather caught her arm in the fence.
A sign showing the way to Howling Timbers, an animal sanctuary in Muskegon where the Michigan DNR served a search warrant Friday morning. (Courtesy: Michigan Department of Natural Resources)
Brenda Pearson, the toddler’s grandmother and the facility’s operator, told Fox News Tuesday she did not want to speak with the media about the incident until she has hired an attorney, although she disputed how other outlets characterized her past remarks, accusing them of “twisting” her words.
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Authorities said that breeding “wolf dogs” is illegal without proper licensing and that they are dangerous. After receiving a tip about the child’s injury, which occurred in July, investigators said they obtained a warrant to search the sancturay last week.
“No person should be allowed near those dogs,” Conservation Officer Anna Cullen said in a statement after going to the site. “It’s not fair to this child who lost an arm. We are doing everything we can to ensure the safety of anyone who may encounter any animal at Howling Timbers, including the health and safety of all the animals at the facility.”
In a statement, the DNR said it was investigating Howling Timbers, which it said is an “unlicensed facility.”
“We want to make sure that anyone who comes into contact with these animals at this facility is safe, and that all of the animals at the facility are being cared for properly,” Steven Burton, assistant chief of the DNR Law Enforcement Division, said in the statement.
A DNR spokesman did not immediately respond to a Fox News request for additional information, but outside groups praised the state’s actions at the facility.
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“State officials were right to crack down on this unlicensed operation, because backyard menageries serve up a risky and cruel cocktail of inexperienced owners and no government oversight,” Debbie Metzler, the associate director of captive animal law enforcement for the PETA Foundation, told Fox News. “This awful incident illustrates exactly why no one should breed or buy wolfdogs, who are as unpredictable and often as unresponsive to us as wild wolves and are not appropriate companion animals.”
Howling Timbers previously had its state wildlife rehabilitation permit revoked in 2010, according to the DNR. Authorities said Pearson in the past has allegedly failed to submit permit records, failed to notify law enforcement of an escaped bear and failed to properly care for animals at the facility.
“She’s been applying for licenses with different departments but doesn’t follow through with the inspection process – she’s failed to complete all of her applications,” Cullen said. “An application is not a permit.”
In order to operate the facility legally, Pearson would need to meet state, county or federal permitting requirements, according to the DNR.
There is a GoFundMe campaign set up for the toddler’s recovery that had raised more than $8,000 out of a $12,000 goal as of Tuesday evening.