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'We've always just wanted to help': Muskegon wolf-dog sanctuary appeals court order to forfeit hybrid animals

Brenda and James Pearson have operated Howling Timbers Wolf-Dog Sanctuary in Muskegon County since the 1990's
Howling Timbers Web photo
Posted at 6:12 PM, Apr 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-12 18:12:57-04

MUSKEGON COUNTY. — After a devastating court order that would see Howling Timbers forced to forfeit all of their wolf-dogs, their founders are filing an appeal in the case in the hope they will be able to keep the hybrid animals at their sanctuary.

Brenda and James Pearson, the founders of Howling Timbers in Muskegon County, have been dedicating their lives to taking care of wolf-dogs since the early 1990's.

“We've always just wanted to help people and help animals,” Brenda told FOX 17 Tuesday afternoon.

"But never in a million years, did we think something like this would happened," Brenda said.

It was legal to keep the hybrid cross animals as pets in Michigan until 2000, when the law was changed. The new law made the legality of operating a wolf-dog sanctuary vastly more complicated.

“The law is so vague in many areas, that it's been easy for law enforcement to try to find ways to not allow us to be a sanctuary," said Pearson.

The state didn't seem to have any major issues with Howling Timbers' operations until recent years. In fact, James explained, they have taken in about 41 wolf-dogs from the state agriculture department; animals that the agency had seized, with nowhere else to take them.

"It's just kind of strange how all this evolved, you know, in the last couple of years," he said Tuesday.

Last year Muskegon County prosecutors filed charges of possessing a dangerous animal that caused a serious injury, for incidents that involved a volunteer and a young family member, as well as illegally possessing a wolf-dog mix without a license.

The charges stem from an investigation the DNR lead in 2020.

“I cant imagine losing these animals, so I’m going to fight with everything I have to keep them,” Brenda told FOX 17 in the hallways of the Muskegon County court building last October, during one of their hearings.

After a 2 day bench trial this year, Judge Annette Smedley said Howling Timbers would have to forfeit all 36 wolf-dogs on their property.

“Even though it looked like we lost the case, because she ordered the forfeiture, we did get the stay,” Brenda explained Tuesday.

Judge Smedley gave them a 21 day stay, allowing them to file an appeal in the case. And after conflicting information from different state agencies, the Judge acknowledged that Howling Timbers was in fact a licensed sanctuary.

“We feel confident in the court of appeals that they'll overturn the verdict,” Brenda said.

Their attorney has already filed the case with the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The animals remain at Howling Timbers, and volunteers continue showing up to help in caring for them.

Brenda said ideally they want to be allowed to let the wolf-dogs they already have live out their lives at the sanctuary, adding that timeline would likely correspond to when she and her husband would end up retiring from their animal sanctuary work.

“For anybody that thinks that our animals are neglected, or not cared for properly... there's nothing further from the truth. Our animals are loved, not only by us, but by our volunteers and the community,” Brenda said Tuesday.

Howling Timbers has been posting updates about their legal fight on their Facebook page HERE.

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