Hank’s Tragic Story
In March 2020, Michigan Doodle Rescue Connect (MDRC), a nonprofit dog rescue that specializes in rescuing poodle mixes (commonly referred to as “doodles”), received a phone call about a litter of puppies that were “free to a good home.” MDRC’s team sprang into action and rescued three dirty, matted, and malnourished springer-doodle siblings from an Amish breeder in rural west Michigan.
After a closer examination, MDRC discovered that one of the puppies, Hank, had a leather strap tightly embedded in his mouth between his jaws and knotted at the back of his head. Hank’s breeder had gagged Hank with a leather strap as a young puppy and left it there to rot away into his skin. By the time MDRC rescued Hank, the leather had been cutting into Hank’s cheeks for weeks, leaving one inch of raw, infected flesh on both sides.
MDRC immediately sought medical care for Hank. It was an arduous process (including sedation, surgery, and a long road to recovery), but MDRC successfully saved Hank.
A Happy Ending
Hank’s case was so heartbreaking that one of the veterinary technicians who treated him ended up adopting him. He is now happy and thriving in his forever home. But the scars of his injury remain (both emotional and physical) and will require a lifetime of extra attention and care.
Hank’s breeder was criminally charged and sentenced. On January 27, Judge Drake of the 78th District Court in Newaygo County, Michigan, ordered him to pay approximately $1,500 in fines and restitution and placed on a six-month probation, during which he is legally barred from breeding dogs.
It would have been all too easy to become so overwhelmed by emotion (anger, sadness, even panic) in the face of such cruelty toward an innocent animal. It would have also been all too easy to succumb to helplessness at the slow pace of the criminal justice system—more than 10 months elapsed between Hank’s rescue and the sentencing of his breeder.
So how did we get justice for Hank? As MDRC’s pro bono attorney, it is my privilege to share several lessons I learned about grassroots animal advocacy from working on Hank’s case:
Truthfully, the reactions to the sentencing of Hank’s breeder have been mixed. Due to the seriousness of Hank’s injury and the immense pain he undoubtedly suffered, many passionate animal lovers understandably expected more. I received dozens of disappointed messages and comments along the lines of, “That’s it?! He got away too easy!” But in the words of MDRC’s founder and director, Nana Doodle, “[Such expectations] aren’t realistic. We will count this as a win … Most cases don’t even get this far or even picked up.”
Ultimately, this positive outcome was the product of a partnership between the rescue, its supporters, the local police, the prosecutor, and the local news. Harnessing those relationships is a useful tool that should not be overlooked by grassroots advocates in the fight against animal cruelty.
About the Author: Valerie Brummel is a litigation attorney at the law firm Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila LLP based in Chicago. In addition to animal law, Valerie also practices commercial litigation. She obtained her law degree from Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law.
Valerie is a proud RDMOC supporter, along with her goldendoodle Watson. You can follow their adventures on Instagram at val_and_watson.
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