Ionia County dogs get reprieve from euthanization; released to owners after 285 days at shelter

Posted at 3:02 PM, Apr 18, 2017

IONIA COUNTY, Mich. – Today was a day Susan and Byron Vamvakias feared would never come. In fact, the two dogs whose lives they were fighting for should have been euthanized days ago – but instead, they left Ionia County Animal Shelter free and clear Tuesday morning.

After a ten hour hearing extending late into the night Monday, an Ionia County District Court Judge decided there simply wasn’t enough evidence to convict the two Pitbull mixes and German Shepherd.

The pitbulls, Mario and Luigi, belong to Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient Allen Hustin, Sue’s out of state son-in-law. The canines were visiting the July 8th weekend of last year when the incident took place.

“We had all pretty much given up hope,” said Byron, almost a year after the three dogs were convicted of killing three nearby goats and a cat. “We had all decided at one point that we were done. We were financially tapped, we were emotionally drained…we were completely hopeless.”

Somehow, throughout all this, Major the German Shepherd managed to escape custody of the shelter. He has yet to be found. Monday, the presiding judge heard testimony from several veterinary experts, forensic specialists and local animal control personnel as well as eyewitnesses who saw the dogs the day of before making his ruling.

“Right now, there’s just too many unanswered questions,” he said in closing Monday night. “The biggest of them in my mind is… where’s the blood? So I reverse my earlier ruling. I don’t find that the people have met their burden of proof - I’m going to order that the dogs be released.”

Tuesday morning, the Vamvakias’ walked the dogs out of the shelter for good.

“You fight for what you believe in,” said Byron.

“Four legged or two legged, family is family,” added Sue.

The two have already taken time off to drive the dogs to Hustin next week. Their lawyer told FOX 17 that the prosecution has 21 days to appeal the order.