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Grandmother signs over ownership to save killer dog

The grandmother of a 1-year-old boy killed by the family dog says she never intended to give the canine to Henderson animal control officials for destruction.

In a sworn statement filed in District Court on Tuesday, Elizabeth Keller wrote that she was trying to revive Jeremiah Eskew-Shahan when an animal control officer showed up and told her she had to sign a form. He never explained that she was giving up ownership of Onion or that she could contest the city’s finding that he was a vicious dog, she wrote.

"As they’re reviving the baby on the lawn, he shoved a paper in front of her nose and said, ‘You have to sign this paper. We’re taking the dog,’ " said Richard Rosenthal, who is leading the legal fight to save Onion. "Under those circumstances, it’s ridiculous to suggest she knew what she was signing."

Keller’s statement was included in a new court motion filed by dog-loving lawyers in the legal battle to spare Onion’s life and send him to a Colorado sanctuary.

Rosenthal and his wife, Robin Mittasch, want to take ownership of Onion, a 6-year-old mastiff-Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, through a trust they set up through their organization, the New York-based Lexus Project. Keller supports their efforts and on Saturday signed over Onion’s ownership to The Lexus Project.

Who owned the dog played a key role in last week’s decision by District Judge Joanna Kishner to deny a temporary restraining order blocking the dog’s euthanization. The judge said the group couldn’t challenge the finding of Onion as a vicious dog because, under city law, only the dog’s owner had that right.

Kishner also found the group had failed to exhaust lower levels of appeals, including going to the Henderson Municipal Court, before taking the case to District Court, so she had no jurisdiction in the case.

Friday’s ruling cleared the way for city officials to euthanize Onion, but they said they would wait for the judge to sign a written order. City lawyers gave the written order to Onion’s lawyers Tuesday and allowed them five business days to review it, so Onion will live at least until next Wednesday .

In its new motion, The Lexus Project asked Kishner to reconsider her earlier ruling, saying that it now owns the dog and that the city’s vicious dog law is unconstitutionally vague.

Rosenthal said his group is prepared to appeal to a higher court if Kishner doesn’t rule in the group’s favor.

The Lexus Project first intervened May 7 and won a temporary reprieve for Onion, who had been marked for death after the fatal April 27 attack on Jeremiah. The attack came after the family finished celebrating the boy’s first birthday at their home, on the 1600 block of Navarre Lane, near Warm Springs Road and Arroyo Grande Boulevard.

When the baby crawled over to Onion and – as he had done many times before – grabbed the 120-pound dog to help himself stand up, the dog attacked. He latched his jaw around the boy’s head and shook for about 30 seconds, breaking the tot’s neck and mangling his face.

Jeremiah died the next day.

The boy’s family said Onion had never shown aggression toward Jeremiah.

Henderson animal control officers declared Onion a vicious dog and scheduled him for destruction after a state-mandated 10-day rabies quarantine. Onion’s supporters believe he shouldn’t be deemed vicious because he was provoked by the child’s actions.

After the attack, the boy’s father, Christopher Shahan, said Onion should be put down for what he did, while Keller said she didn’t care what happened. She just wanted to get past it.

But Keller approached The Lexus Project lawyers after Friday’s hearing and offered to give them ownership of Onion, Rosenthal said.

Contact reporter Brian Haynes at bhaynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0281.

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