Split Screen

On June 26, two Alaskan malamutes, Tucker and Huey, got loose from their run in Hillsdale County, Michigan. Their owners, Dawn and Jeff McClellan, started searching for them right away.

Tucker and Huey with friend Rebel at the pond

Tucker and Huey with friend Rebel at the pond

The McClellans believe that the two dogs went to a pond on the McClellan property and that their new neighbor — let’s call him N — was there too. (N had been seen there before.) Tucker and Huey then followed him home.

At some point N called the Hillsdale County sheriff’s office. According to the official report, which was filed at 19:18 (7:18 p.m.): “Caller [N] advised that 2 Siberian Huskies [sic] were in his yard and they were aggressive. The caller advised they are circling him and that he had shot one. Caller further advised that they have no tags on or collars. Caller stated to Central that he has never seen them before.”

By his own account, the officer filing the report advised N that he had “the right to protect himself and property if he was in danger.”

Shortly afterward, Jeff McClellan showed up in his pickup, looking for his dogs. N was dragging Tucker and Huey out of the garage. Both had been shot dead. Tucker had a rope around his neck. Jeff, stunned, asked what happened. N said he shot the dogs because they wouldn’t leave. Jeff contacted Dawn, who was out looking for the dogs on their four-wheeler. She was likewise shocked by what she saw. She asked N if the dogs were threatening him or damaging anything. He said no. He did point to Huey and say that he was drooling. Jeff was on the phone with a law-enforcement officer, who told him to get in his truck and wait till the officers arrive.

Aside: Does this remind you of a case currently playing out on the national scene? One George Zimmerman uses his gun to create a problem, then uses the gun to “solve” it? He’s the only eyewitness, so his version stands? Yeah, me too.

When the officers arrived, they apparently took the McClellans to task because the dogs weren’t wearing tags and they were running loose. The lack of current tags is significant because Michigan law (MCL 287.279) specifies that unless a dog is harassing livestock or threatening people, it is unlawful “for any person, other than a law enforcement officer, to kill or injure or attempt to kill or injure any dog which bears a license tag for the current year” (emphasis mine). As far as I know, both dogs were licensed but didn’t have their collars on.

According to the official report, the case is now closed.

As you can guess, many people are very angry about what happened. The Facebook group “Justice for Tucker & Huey” currently has 3,740 members. Petitions have been created, articles have been published online, people are researching the laws in Michigan and elsewhere to see if N’s action was justified and whether it could happen elsewhere.

The case should be reopened. Even if it’s lawful under Michigan law to shoot an unlicensed dog, the McClellans and the community in general have a compelling interest in knowing what happened. N told the sheriff’s office that the dogs  were being aggressive. He told the McClellans that they weren’t doing any harm; he shot them because they wouldn’t leave.

While Dawn asked him what had happened, N was cleaning up the blood in his garage. Apparently that’s where one or both dogs were killed. The official report says nothing about blood in the garage. If the dogs followed N home from the pond and were acting “aggressive,” how did they get into the garage? Somehow N got a rope around Tucker’s neck. Why did he do this, and how?

Did N have the rope, the gun, and a phone with him when the dogs followed him home? If not — well, if he had to go into the house to get them, why didn’t he stay there, call the sheriff’s office, and wait?

Another thing: N told the sheriff’s office that the dogs didn’t have tags or collars on. When Trav has a collar on, you can’t see it because his fur is so thick. You have to put your hand on his neck and feel for it. Did N do that? If he did, just how aggressive were these guys?

Time out for a little devil’s advocacy here. The McClellans have said that Tucker and Huey were the sweetest, friendliest dogs you could meet. I believe them. But people meeting a dog for the first time have no idea how friendly the dog is, especially if they don’t know how to read dog behavior. Travvy likes people, but some people freak out when he woos at them. I get it. If you don’t know northern-breed dogs, being wooed at by an 80-pound wolfy-looking creature can be scary.

That said, and having tried to make sense of the information that’s out there — did N think he was in imminent danger? I’m not convinced. All he had to do to get out of danger was to go indoors, which he apparently did, and stay there, which he apparently didn’t.

Reopening the case won’t bring Tucker and Huey back to life, so why bother? Because the McClellans have a right to know what happened. Because everyone who lives in the vicinity has a right to know, especially if they have dogs. And because the law is built on precedents. We could use some precedents that say that unless you’re in danger, it’s not reasonable to shoot a dog, even a strange dog on your own property, until you’ve taken less drastic measures to solve the problem. Getting rid of that implicit stipulation that it’s only unlawful to shoot licensed dogs would also be good.

Aside:  Yes, there are plenty of differences between this case and the one that’s playing out on the national scene. But they echo each other in interesting ways, don’t they?

Revised, July 15, 12:50 p.m. EDT

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About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has two blogs going on WordPress. "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories" is about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard. "Write Through It" is about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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6 Responses to Split Screen

  1. Stacy says:

    Having inside information on this incident I think alot of the responsibility lies on law enforcement to do something about this I FIRMLY believe (and know for sure) that N just beat the sheriffs department to shooting these dogs. If he hadn’t we would talking yet another cops shooting dogs incident.

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  2. Stacy Buchanan says:

    Interesting article Susanna. I have knowledge of this situation and can 100% assure you that one of these dogs was shot…the other was contained in the garage doing nothing. N called the cops and the cops pretty much told him to shoot the other dog or wait for them to come out and they would do it for him. The 2nd dog was not doing anything to even be construed as “aggressive actions”. He happened to be in the just the wrong place at the wrong time. So N went out and EXECUTED him. He figured it was going to be shot whether by him or the cops so what the heck he was going to do it. That dog was murdered and I hope this haunts N for the rest of his days.
    *** Remember the 911 call? They are public domain.

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  3. Pat W. says:

    UGH what a miserably sad tale!!! Poor dogs! Poor owners! Horrible N. Yes I hear the echoes. UGH!

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  4. Sara Crafts says:

    Oh, yeah, and everyone’s innocent, aren’t they? Amazing. Scary dudes to have as neighbors, N and George … Shoot first, answers questions later …

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    • I keep thinking about that cliché “An armed society is a polite society.” Yeah, right. An armed society is a society that has forgotten whatever problem-solving skills it ever had.

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      • Hal Davis says:

        That phrase, “An armed society is a polite society,” reminds me of Ammon Hennacy’s, as relayed by U. Utah Phillips: “An anarchist is someone who doesn’t need a cop to tell him how to behave,”

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