DNR searches Muskegon facility where child was attacked by wolf dog

Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers led a joint investigation and served a search warrant Friday morning at Howling Timbers, an animal rehabilitation facility in Muskegon that is believed to be illegally breeding and housing animals, including “wolf dogs” – a crossbreed between a wolf and dog (or another wolf dog) that is illegal in Michigan unless necessary permits are obtained.

During today’s search, officers removed six red foxes, three coyotes, four eastern box turtles and two fawns. Other non-native wildlife remains on-site, including 47 illegal wolf dogs.

“The DNR is currently investigating the unlicensed facility,” said Steven Burton, assistant chief of the DNR Law Enforcement Division. “We want to make sure that anyone who comes into contact with these animals at this facility is safe, and that all of the animals at the facility are being cared for properly.”

Earlier this week, Conservation Officer Anna Cullen obtained a search warrant through the 60th District Court in Muskegon after investigating an informant’s tip she received in August. The informant told Cullen that in July a young child lost an arm after being attacked by a dog at Howling Timbers, 6806 E. Evanston Ave.

Cullen received a copy of the bite report which had been filed through Kent County Animal Control. The report confirmed that on July 23, a 2-year-old child stuck an arm into a cage at Howling Timbers and a dog latched onto the arm. One of the Howling Timbers volunteers attempted to free the child’s arm.

Brenda Pearson, owner of Howling Timbers, is the child’s grandmother.

The Michigan DNR, the Muskegon County Sheriff’s Office and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development are investigating Pearson for operating the facility without required permits.

Cullen and fellow Conservation Officer Jackie Miskovich spoke with Pearson at the facility in September and confirmed that Pearson has no permits.

Pearson is aware that she is not licensed in the state of Michigan for rehabbing or to possess the (wolf) dogs, according to Cullen. “She’s been applying for licenses with different departments but doesn’t follow through with the inspection process – she’s failed to complete all of her applications,” Cullen said. “An application is not a permit.”

To operate legally, Pearson’s facility would need to meet all safety and care provisions before the permits are issued from at least one of the following: the DNR, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Muskegon County or the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development.

The DNR served a search warrant on the facility in 2008. In 2010, the DNR revoked Pearson’s wildlife rehabilitation permit. Pearson’s history of criminal violations from the DNR includes:

Failing to submit wildlife rehabilitation permit records.
Failing to notify the DNR or any law enforcement agency regarding an escaped bear.
Failing to properly care for animals at the facility in humane and sanitary conditions.
“No person should be allowed near those dogs,” Cullen said. “It’s not fair to this child who lost an arm. We are doing everything we can to ensure the safety of anyone who may encounter any animal at Howling Timbers, including the health and safety of all the animals at the facility.”

Anyone witnessing a natural resources crime or having information about such a crime is encouraged to call or text the DNR’s Report All Poaching hotline at 800-292-7800.

Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned state peace officers who provide natural resources protection, ensure recreational safety and protect citizens by providing general law enforcement duties and lifesaving operations in the communities they serve. Learn more at Michigan.gov/ConservationOfficers.