IONIA COUNTY, Mich. –Byron and Susan Vamvakias are self-admitted dog lovers, so to say the past few weeks have been tough for them would be an understatement.
In early July, the couple was watching their 3-year-old German Shephard Major, along with their son-in-law’s two Pit Bull mixes Mario and Luigi. The gate got loose, and the dogs escaped.
“They just had to push the corner of the panel out, and they were out,” said Susan. “Everyone was searching, and we were searching all day.”
But it wasn’t until the following evening that the dogs eventually turned up. They had been found in a nearby pen belonging to a local farmer.
“I said, ‘Well I guess you found our dogs?’” said Byron. “And they said ‘well, yes, but there’s a problem.’”
Also found in that pen where the dogs were discovered – three dead goats and a family cat belonging to the farmer. Even though they asserted the dogs couldn’t have done it, the Vamvakias’ signed their citations and believed the incident was over.
“We didn’t really appreciate how serious the situation was,” said Byron, mentioning he thought the eventual court summons would be for arbitration of damages. “But it wasn’t that…it was a full court trial.”
Eventually, a judge ruled that the dogs were a danger and must be euthanized. But Byron and Susan claim it was a case of their dogs being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“In the judge’s eyes, you’ve got three dogs in the pen and three dead goats, and that’s it,” said Byron. “That’s the preponderance of the evidence as he explained it to us.”
The decision devastated the Vamvakias’ and their son-in-law Allen, who owns Mario and Luigi. Both were comfort animals helping the Purple Heart recipient after four overseas tours.
The family has since appealed the decision, claiming they have overwhelming evidence against the ruling.
“There was no blood - not a trace of blood on any one of those dogs,” said Byron. “Those goats were completely bloated, covered in flies, and it had been obvious that they had been dead for quite some time.”
“If it would have been obvious they did it - if they’d have been covered in blood – I would have accepted the fate. I just don’t want to…let them die for no cause.”
FOX 17 reached out to the Ionia County prosecutor’s office, who provided a full statement defending the ruling.
In the meantime, the Vanvakias’ are remaining active on social media, starting petitions, letter writing campaigns to judges and county leaders, and receiving feedback from around the world.
“Right now we are at the last step,” said Susan. “The appeal is all we have. And I don’t have a lot of hope.”
“I just want them to live. And they don’t deserve to be destroyed. They’re not vicious, they’re not dangerous.”