A husky whose fate became a courtroom battle after it fatally mauled a McKeesport newborn will be allowed to live, but only in the confines of an out-of-state animal sanctuary, according to the terms of an agreement reached Friday.
Prosecutors and attorneys representing the interests of Helo the husky told an Allegheny County Common Pleas judge that the sanctuary, which specializes in the handling of dangerous dogs, would be the best option to keep both the public and the animal from harm.
Judge Edward Borkowski, who approved Friday's agreement, had ordered the dog seized and killed shortly after it mauled 3-day-old Howard Nicholson on Feb. 16 while his mother had stepped out of the room. But the dog's adopted owner, William Uhring of Churchill, appealed the ruling, and Helo's future became the subject of contentious court proceedings.
Prosecutors had hoped the husky would be deemed a "dangerous dog," which likely would have meant its euthanization. The dog's supporters wanted to see it live freely with a family.
"We worked in the spirit of compromise to reach what appeared to be a just resolution," Deputy District Attorney Laura Ditka said after the short court appearance. "The intention was to keep society and the community safe."
The 19-month-old dog remains in a Monroeville-area kennel and will be transferred to the animal sanctuary at the start of next week. Attorneys declined to reveal its name or location, citing concern for the safety of the dog and its handlers.
"These types of cases do bring out a lot of emotions on both sides," said attorney Pamela Amicarella, representing Helo. She said the sanctuary, where Helo will live with about 70 other dogs, spans more than 100 acres and employs a behavioralist and trainer who groups dogs into "family packs" so they can interact. There are large indoor and outdoor pens, she added, "a very nice setup that will permit him as a young puppy to be able to run around."
The agreement means that Helo is barred from leaving the facility and can never be adopted by another family or organization. It can never return to Pennsylvania.
Mr. Uhring adopted the dog, called Nikko at the time, from the baby's parents, only to have it taken by authorities when Judge Borkowski ordered it seized and killed. He was not present in the courtroom on Friday and couldn't be reached for comment.
Mr. Uhring's family and other pets were the target of threats that he feared would escalate if he were allowed to keep the dog at his residence, said another of his attorneys, Ryan Mergl. He thought it best to remove himself from the situation as long as the dog could live, Mr. Mergl said.
The newborn's mother, Brandy Furlong, 21, has been charged with child endangerment and violations of the state dog laws and faces a preliminary hearing in June. She told Allegheny County homicide detectives she was the only one home when she went upstairs to use the bathroom, leaving the baby in a carrier on the floor between a mattress and a couch. She returned minutes later to find her son bleeding badly from head wounds.
Dennis Blackwell, the attorney representing Ms. Furlong, said he did not want to comment on the dog's fate pending his client's criminal trial. He said the woman only owned the dog for a short period of time before the attack.
"I don't believe she's liable for anything the dog may have done," Mr. Blackwell said.
The attorney also said that characterizations in the media about his client wanting the dog's life to be spared in the days after the attack were untrue.
"Any mother would not be a fan of that animal," Mr. Blackwell said.
The husky was suffering a broken leg and had only recently joined Ms. Furlong's household; she has two other children, ages 3 and 6, who were not home at the time of the attack. The dog's attorneys have said its injury and the new environment could have been stressors that contributed to the mauling. An expert testified before Judge Borkowski that the dog likely bit the baby because he mistook him for a toy.
Judge Borkowski said the law allows for the dog to be killed, but given the circumstances of the case, "that result is inhumane and perhaps unjust."
"Human conduct was primarily responsible for the tragic result here and not necessarily the nature of the dog," the judge said.
Sadie Gurman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1878. Paula Reed Ward contributed.