Group hopes to save dog that killed 1-year-old

A group of dog lovers hopes to pressure Henderson officials into sparing the life of Onion, the dog who bit and killed a 1-year-old boy last week.

They have collected donations and found a dog sanctuary where the 6-year-old mastiff-Rhodesian ridgeback mix could spend the rest of his life. They just need city officials to stop next week’s scheduled euthanization.

“This dog will never harm another soul,” said Les Golden, a Chicago-area dog rescuer who is leading the campaign to spare Onion. “The dog deserves to be saved.”

Golden hopes a flood of supporters calling and emailing Mayor Andy Hafen will persuade him to stay the execution, which could happen Monday or Tuesday after the dog’s 10-day health quarantine.

The movement will not have support from Onion’s family, which voluntarily gave their pet to animal control officials for euthanization.

“For what he did to my son, he deserves to be punished,” father Christopher Shahan said. “I’ve already accepted the fact that he’s dead.”

The attack that killed Jeremiah Eskew-Shahan came April 27 after the family had 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.

Jeremiah’s grandmother, Elizabeth Keller, gave him a bottle and laid him down in the living room. The baby crawled over to Onion and – as he had done many times before – grabbed onto the 120-pound dog to help himself stand up.

Keller was leaning over to pick him up when Onion suddenly attacked. He latched around the boy’s head and shook.

Jeremiah’s father and others ran to the commotion and freed the child about 30 seconds later.

Paramedics rushed the boy to a nearby hospital before he was airlifted to the University Medical Center trauma unit, where he died early the next day.

Henderson animal control officers declared Onion a vicious dog, which requires euthanization following the state-mandated quarantine.

“The dog attacked and killed a child,” animal control spokesman Keith Paul said. “It would be irresponsible of us to allow this dog to be adopted out.”

Pet owners can appeal such a finding, but in this case they did not, he said.

Onion had been with the family since he was a puppy and helped Keller through her battle with lung cancer. The dog had never shown aggression toward anyone and loved Jeremiah, Shahan said.

“I would love him to be in a sanctuary the rest of his life, but what sort of punishment would that be for killing a human being?” the father said.

Based on news reports, Golden said he believes Onion is not dangerous and simply acted instinctively after being spooked by the child.

“He would never do anything like that again because he would be put in a sanctuary,” he said.

Lisa Kavanaugh, considered an expert at handling large aggressive dogs, said she would welcome Onion to her 35-acre ranch near Denver called Blue Lion Rescue.

Any dog from any breed can bite under certain conditions, and often they are only reacting to a human’s actions, she said.

If Onion were allowed to come to her ranch, he would never leave, like a convicted killer serving life in prison without parole, she said.

“If it’s an accident, why not give him a chance?” Kavanaugh said. “He’s never, ever going to get a chance to hurt anybody else.”

Jeremiah’s grandmother, who was Onion’s closest companion, said she appreciates the efforts to save the dog she called Bunny, but she accepts that his life must end.

She wished only that animal control officers had put him down right away instead of waiting more than a week, leaving her beloved pet to wonder each day whether he will see his family again.

“My grandchild is gone, and I want my dog to be in peace,” Keller said. “He won’t be in peace until he’s put to sleep.”

Contact reporter Brian Haynes at or 702-383-0281.

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