Authorities are now investigating the Howling Timbers Animal Sanctuary in Muskegon, Michigan, after the owner's granddaughter lost her forearm in an incident on July 23

By Gabrielle Chung
October 12, 2020 10:11 PM
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Credit: gofundme

A 2-year-old girl has been brutally injured after reaching into a cage that housed a "wolf-dog" hybrid at an animal rehabilitation center owned by her family.

Authorities are now investigating the Howling Timbers Animal Sanctuary in Muskegon, Michigan, after the owner's granddaughter lost her forearm in an incident on July 23, according to Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Officials said in a press release on Friday that the child was bitten by a wolf-dog — a crossbreed between a wolf and dog that is illegal in the state of Michigan unless permits are obtained — after she stuck her arm into a cage containing the canine hybrid.

"No person should be allowed near those dogs," conservation officer Anna Cullen said in a statement. "It’s not fair to this child who lost an arm. We are doing everything we can to ensure the safety of anyone who may encounter any animal at Howling Timbers, including the health and safety of all the animals at the facility."

According to the department, officers found "47 illegal wolf dogs" while searching the animal sanctuary on Friday. Officials said they removed six red foxes, three coyotes, four eastern box turtles and two fawns from the premise during the search.

"The DNR is currently investigating the unlicensed facility," Steven Burton, assistant chief of the DNR Law Enforcement Division, said in a statement. "We want to make sure that anyone who comes into contact with these animals at this facility is safe, and that all of the animals at the facility are being cared for properly."

Animals found at Howling Timbers Animal Sanctuary
| Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

However, the animal sanctuary's owner — whom officials identified as Brenda Pearson — claims that her granddaughter Sophia was not bitten, but that she had lost her arm when it got stuck on a fence.

An Oct. 9 post shared on Howling Timbers' Facebook said that the toddler was "interested in the shiny collar being worn by one of the wolf dogs" and reached out to grab it from the animal's cage.

"We believe she grabbed his collar and he pulled to get away. She then got her arm stuck in the fence at the elbow and lost her arm," the post read. "She had no bite wounds on her arm. She had one tiny cut on her wrist."

In another post, the animal sanctuary also refuted the department's claim that it was running without the required license, saying officials previously told them "we'd be eligible and then approved us later for a permit."

"Weeks later they claimed they were misinformed and not eligible to issue us approval," the post read. "Coyote and fox were a separate permit that needed to be applied for which was in progress. Coyote for inability to be released due to being handed off as pets and bottle raised by public. Fox were due to a law change that changed from native color to all color."

The animal rehab also said they applied for a license in August, but officials "still haven't contacted us to set up an inspection."

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In a statement, Cullen said that Pearson has "been applying for licenses with different departments but doesn’t follow through with the inspection process – she’s failed to complete all of her applications."

"An application is not a permit," Cullen added.

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Pearson was previously revoked of her wildlife rehabilitation permit in 2010.

A GoFundMe page set up in support of Sophia's medical expenses say that the child has been "doing very well" since the incident, "but does have a long road ahead of her."

As of Monday, it has raised $7,855 out of its $12,000 goal.