Shadow is happily at home with the Madsen family, after a lengthy court case. Photo courtesy of Madsen family.
An Alaskan Malamute named Shadow, who faced euthanasia after being accused of biting a woman in Kelowna, British Columbia has been freed and cleared of all charges.
Jennifer and Peter Madsen maintained their dog's innocence throughout a lengthy and costly legal battle against the Regional District of Central Okanagan (RDCO) to prevent the district's request to have Shadow put down.
The family had also been fighting to get temporary custody of Shadow while they awaited court proceedings, which had dragged on for over a year. Shadow had been held in the regional dog pound for 15 months and with her case adjourned until January of 2013, the family grew increasingly concerned over Shadow's welfare at the temporary pound facility.
Shadow was accused of having bitten a woman on March 26, 2011 after she escaped her yard and was running loose. While loose, she approached a woman with her German Shepherd and a fight broke out between the pair of dogs. During the incident, the woman was bitten severely on her leg.
However, eyewitnesses to the incident claimed that they did not see Shadow bite the woman. They said they saw Shadow approach the woman, and the woman kick Shadow on the head. At that point, the woman's German Shepherd named Bella went into a frenzy. Eyewitnesses have stated that it was likely the woman's own dog, Bella, bit her.
RCMP wrote up the report and Shadow was returned home. At the time of the incident, the Madsens had been traveling and a neighbor had been caring for the Madsen's dogs. After speaking with the police, the Madsens thought the incident was over.
However, over a month later, RDCO's animal control arrived at their home and seized Shadow. Animal control had received a call from the victim who asked for the Madsen's address in order to file a civil suit. Peter told Castanet, "32 days later, they [the woman bitten] make a call to dog control asking for our personal information so they can start a civil litigation against us. So dog control talks to her, and three days later, May 1, they [animal control] came up and illegally seized Shadow without a court order."
According to the family, the lead investigator approached the four eyewitnesses and argued with them about which dog was at fault. He then ignored the eyewitnesses' accounts that maintained Shadow was not at fault for the bite. Peter also alleged the dog control officer suggested that he let him put the dog down that day and worry about fighting the forthcoming civil action.
But the family steadfastly refused and decided to fight back. "Nobody is contesting that Shadow was at large, or that the wound was grievous, we're just saying Shadow didn't do it. They're aware of that. They've disregarded witness and police statements,” said Peter. "They had their minds made up when they heard the woman walking Bella's story."
However, as dog bylaw cases are prioritized below civil, family and criminal cases, Shadow's case began to drag through the court system. Shadow, who was 13 months old at the time she was taken, spent over half her life in a pen at the pound.
Jennifer and Peter grew increasingly concerned over Shadow's welfare. They felt that with the court postponement, another half year of confinement would take its toll on Shadow's health and wellbeing. The family described the pen as "a hell hole".
"She's in a five by 10 concrete cell, 23 and a half hours a day. We're allowed to see her once a week for half an hour," said Jennifer. The dog was let out only 30 minutes a day and the believed the continued incarceration would damage their dog permanently.
For their part, the Regional District said they tried to get a court approved consent order to release Shadow to the Madsens, but was unable to reach an agreement with the family. However, Jennifer and Peter said they could not agree to the terms, which they said stated would have the family admit guilt and prevent them from speaking to the media about Shadow.
Jennifer and Peter said they have spent tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs trying to get Shadow into temporary care while they awaited the outcome of the trial. The family gathered support from animal lovers worldwide and pressure built for the RDCO to take action to resolve the situation.
The family released video of an animal behaviorist testing Shadow, showing the dog was not aggressive. They also organized a peaceful rally at a town all meeting on Tuesday July 24. Hundreds of supporters showed up and afterwards the family was promised a meeting.
The increased publicity and scrutiny appears to have paid off for the couple and this week, the two sides met behind closed doors and negotiated an out-of-court agreement for Shadow's release.
Much to the delight of the family, the charges against Shadow were dropped. As part of the agreement reached between the parties, Peter said the RDCO agreed to drop all charges against Shadow, while Peter says he has agreed not to pursue civil charges against the district.
"It's been hell for our family. We just wanted it to end," said Peter. Regional District board chair Robert Hobson said the lengthy court process has taken its toll. "It isn't fair to any party. It isn't fair to the victim that was unfortunately injured. It isn’t fair to the owners, the Madsens and their dog. It’s not fair to our staff or the general public," he said.
Peter said the Regional District agreed to help with his legal costs as well as the cost or rehabilitation in the event that the experience at the pound has caused any lasting affects on Shadow. In return, Peter said they had to build adequate fencing around the family home, which has already been done. In addition, the Madsens must take Shadow to a rehabilitation and reintegration training. Robert Hobson said, "Today's agreement marks a positive step for both parties in resolving what has been a very difficult case."
In turn, Peter and Jennifer said, "We are grateful for the cooperation of the Regional District in working to resolve this matter and getting Shadow back with us. We’re very happy that she is returning home and will begin professional training to help with her adjustment."
It is expected that a final consent order between the parties will be presented for Provincial Court approval early next week.
Prior to this week's announcement of Shadow's release, the Madsen's tried to get Shadow home while they awaited the legal outcome of their case. This video shows the pound where Shadow was held, and Shadow being evaluated by dog behavior specialists.
While Shadow was held at the pound, the Madsens hired a dog behavior specialist to evaluate Shadow. He concluded Shadow was not an aggressive dog.
Below is a video showing the moment Shadow was released to her family.
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