The issue before the Mat-Su Animal Care and Regulation Board is simple. Should the sled dog Wizard, who seriously mauled 2-year-old Elin Shuck when she was visiting the dog yard with her family, be put to death?
The answer is yes.
The board deadlocked last week over the issue, four members splitting 2-2 over whether the dog should be euthanized.
There was talk about what a hard case it was. That difficulty is undeniable; this is a miserable experience for everyone involved. But its difficulty lies in the individuals and circumstances, not in the decision before the board.
What the case before the board boils down to is what the dog did and what the law says about it.
Borough law says that any dog that seriously harms a person in an unprovoked attack should be humanely killed. Wizard, a sled dog in the lot of Big Lake Iditarod veteran Jake Berkowitz, broke its restraint and attacked the girl. The dog did serious and permanent damage, and might well have killed the girl had her mother not fought the dog off.
Further, a vet testified that the dog, while mild-mannered around adults, seemed to have a heightened prey instinct around children. It's not the only sled dog in Alaska with that heightened instinct.
But this is different for one reason. This dog mauled a child. It should be put down.
The board's first priority is public safety. This dog proved that it could and would kill a child. This case should close fast.
That doesn't make it easy. The families were friends -- Robin Berkowitz, Jake's wife, had taken care of the Shuck family's children. The Shuck family had boarded some of their own sled dogs at the Berkowitz kennel. The family was visiting and picking up some of those dogs when Wizard broke free and attacked Elin.
The question of whether Jennifer Sundquist should have taken her three children -- she had a baby on her back and Elin's older brother Liam with her -- into the dog yard is a fair one. She made a decision she shouldn't have made and one we're sure she'd give almost anything to have back. That's especially true given that Robin Berkowitz testified that when she was in charge of Jennifer's children, Jennifer had told her not to let them out of the vehicle at another dog lot the family visited. Because of that, Robin Berkowitz said she never imagined Sundquist would bring her children into the yard. Jake Berkowitz testified that he wouldn't have allowed children into the dog yard without his being there.
Sundquist knew the potential danger. But it also could be argued that any visitor has a reasonable expectation that the sled dogs' restraints will hold.
Other issues came up at the hearing -- including the argument that walking past the dog yard with a dog and children in tow was a provocation to the sled dogs and thus reason to let Wizard live. That's a dangerous argument that says sled dogs get an exemption from the law even if they maul a child, that because of the nature of some of them the child's mere presence is a provocation.
When we think about that argument for a moment it hits the dead end of putting dog before child. That's wrong.
A lot went wrong that day in a case in which there are no bad guys. Bad decisions, assumptions and a dog that got loose, but no bad intent. Parsing responsibility for all that isn't the animal control board's job. Putting down a dog that mauled a child is the board's job.
BOTTOM LINE: Sled dog mauled a child and should be put down.