Excessive Heat Warning Issued for West Michigan

‘They’re not killers’ – Owners fight euthanization ruling for three dogs

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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.

Read the Full Statement

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.”

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  • J.B.

    I guess if your dogs had killed a few kids and mauled a senior citizen or 3 they would prob feel the same way..
    these kinds of people all do…
    “they wouldn’t do that!” “not MY dogs!” “they are not killers!” “ohh they are service comfort animals!”..”we are animal lovers!”
    Yeah..and the farmer was too….now his animals are dead because of YOUR irresponsibility.
    it is not a conspiracy, and the farmer is not “framing” your innocent pets…you are just morons…
    And if your son in law needs a service animal for PTSD get him a chihuahua or a rabbit..
    Obviously 2 pit bulls are too much for him to handle.

      • J.B.

        “you don’t know what you’re talking about”
        At least i am not alone in that fact..
        But how about a sob story on the local about this farmers dead goats and the family cat? how about a petition set up for them?
        What about his kids and their 4H pets they had hand raised and worked so hard on and the tabby cat that had been a loyal family member for years? and the horror of going to feed them and finding them being torn apart?
        2 sides to every story Willy.
        and only one side of the story is getting told here.
        that is not right..or fair…

      • J.B.

        Dogs clean themselves…
        I drop a piece of bloody steak on the ground, my dog removes all traces of it in no time at all.
        meat juice..”ie blood” is a dog favorite. rub some on your dog..watch it disappear..magic.
        And dead animals start to decay and bloat on a hot 90 degree day in only a few hours….trust me.
        But, i know, i know…evil farmer framed them and paid off a corrupt judge to sentence them to death and
        most likely kidnapped those poor dogs and put them in the pen with 3 dead goats and the family cat that he just murdered as part of this overly complicated and devious set up..right?……..
        Oh and BTW….and i also bet the dogs owners would never lie and/or exaggerate their side of the story, right?
        only farmers and judges do that kind of thing. also correct?
        i guess “dog lives matter”…..but the 3 goats and a cat’s live’s obviously do not.

      • J.B.

        Like i told Willy.
        At least i am not alone in that fact..
        and BTW NPFM the old saying is “you dont know sh^t from Shine’ola”
        but i guess “you” didn’t know that either. ;)

    • Joe Bidden

      Most animals on the farm end up being processed for food or are a tool unlike people. Dogs are man’s best friends and deserve better treatment than being put down for destruction of property.

    • mADhATTEr

      Who said they were friends? The judge just saw it the way the farmer saw it I guess. I’m not a wildlife expert by any means but, i don’t think I’ve ever heard of a wild animal killing for fun. They can’t afford to waste that kind of energy. If the “coyotes” could get out why didn’t the dogs? They fit in the same hole the first time. Another thing I’ve also heard is…… Canines, wild or domestic will clean themselves and others as to not attract other predators to their kill. In order for blood to get to the neck/collar area the dogs would’ve had to have their head buried in the goats. Now. Can someone explain the mangled cat? Ever see a canine play tug of war? I have. And the coyote vs cat…. Prey as small as the cat would be carried off to the den and consumed. Probably wouldn’t have just left it lay for an easy meal for another animal. What short time frame are they talking about? How long does it take for a dead animal to stiffen? Not as long as people think. 2-3 hrs or less would be my guess. Are there any eyewitnesses that can put these dogs somewhere else 2-3 hrs before the dead animals were found? Do you see fox 17? A lot of details were left out of this story. Why? It seems like somebody would have done some research and interviews on the other side of the fence. But I guess a one sided story draws more viewers.

      • mADhATTEr

        I also forgot to add the minnow trap. Some livestock fencing is buried in the ground. When dug to and forced one way it becomes bent. It can be a weak way in but a tough way out. Just food for thought


    Really ? a German Shepard puppy ?
    So the dogs got in, but couldn’t get out ?
    Better ask the farmer if he let the dogs in to cover for animal neglect, or an attempt to cash in?
    I’d find out if the judge is related to farmer as well.
    something does’t pass the smell test here.

  • Theresa Thompson

    And maybe, just maybe, it happened exactly as it appeared. Carcasses boat in a matter of hours in this weather, I dealt with that just last week. As to no blood, who knows, maybe it got covered in dust or bedding. I find it very plausible, as opposed to the farmer and the judge conspiring to cover up something! Ridiculous.

  • Chris

    It is the owners fault. The county should make them pay for damages and an approved fence company to install owner paid fence. It’s not the dogs fault, the owner knew their fence panel was weak.

  • Karla Fay

    So, the dog owners showed up with no attorney and no evidence to rebut the prosecution then think a bunch of petitions is going to save their dogs? Due process was followed , and these owners failed to confine the dogs or hire legal representation.

  • KaD

    One thing the authorities cannot do is continue to return known vicious dogs back to irresponsible, delusional owners until someone is DEAD. The dogs should be put down. Public safety MUST come before the self imagined right to own a well documented vicious breed.

  • Farmer and dog owner

    All canines hunt in a pack, so when it becomes time for one of them to show who is the alpha, the others will follow. Let me put this in words that anyone can understand, when one becomes aggressive the others will follow. Our neighbor was held at bay by four dogs that were different in sizes from Lab mixes to a little fuzzy looking critter in her own garage. She could not get out of her car, she had to call the authorities with her cell phone to have the animals removed. When these dogs were alone you could’ve ask for a better pet. As a hunter, a coyote will not kill for fun or sport, they kill for a meal. By saying that, you would not find the cat and the goats would have been torn apart. So what were the dogs doing in the pen to begin with? I’m sure they were not in there to play hide and seek with goats. My worries are what could of happened if a small child or even an adult would have tried to help the cat or the goats. My final words are, according to state law a person has the right to protect their family, property, and livestock. What I am saying is if the farmer would have seen this going on I’m sure the out come would be different. At my farm or any other farmers that I know the ending would not have been good for the dogs. Like it or not that is the law. I’m also a dog owner, and follow the the leash law. I also ensure that my dogs have appropriate fencing.

  • Lori

    They is absolutely no sign that the dogs killed any of the animals. They shouldn’t be killed because of one persons accusations!

    • Farmer and dog owner

      You tell that to the man that is tried for murder. Just because someone says he is who I saw there at the time. So can you tell us what the dogs were doing in the pen? Comforting the goats maybe even holding their own prayer session for the poor goats. If the owner were responsible pet owners they would have had appropriate fencing and we would not be having this conversation now would we. I’m just saying. Have a great night.

      • Farmer and dog owner

        Some people redefine stupid one line at a time. The only thing people must remember there is a Leash Law in this great state of Michigan. An animal is always regarded at large when said animal is off owners property without leash or under control by owner.

        • Farmer and dog owner

          Madhatter………That is why there is judgement of our peers in a court room. It just appears that the news has made this a one sided report. As everyone knows there is two sides to every story. As you look at this situation it is not good for either side. The goats and cat are gone, and sorry to say the dogs may also be sent to their demise too. It’s hard to change a ruling in the courts. I honestly don’t believe the the judge and the farmer are related. Someone just pulled that out of their ass to stir up more crap. I feel sorry for someone like that, it is pretty pitiful.

  • Roger Dygert

    This is a case for a good Lawyer. Someone please help these Dogs the evidence does not fit.I think the Judge has been at his seat to long.

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