Harvey, his owner leaving Rantoul
RANTOUL — Mary Alberico will lose her house in Rantoul. But she doesn't mind the trade-off. She'll get to keep her beloved dog, Harvey.
The 7-year-old mastiff-pit bull mix was due to be euthanized if Alberico hadn't agreed to a deal with the village of Rantoul in exchange for the animal not being declared "vicious."
The deal involved removing Harvey from town. Alberico said her dogs (she also has an older beagle named Larry) are like her children. So, she will be moving with them out of Rantoul.
Alberico was willing to do about anything to keep Harvey. She said she would have even been willing to break into the Champaign County Animal Services Facility in Urbana and hightail it out of Illinois.
She wasn't joking.
"I was in tears. I really thought they were going to kill my dog," said Alberico, an eight-year Army Reserves veteran. "If they were going to kill my dog, I might have been the crazy veteran lady who broke down the doors and headed out of state with the dog."
Alberico has incurred bills to house Harvey at the county facility ($400) and to pay her attorney ($1,000). She said she can't afford to keep two homes, so she'll allow the lender to foreclose on her house in the 1100 block of Prairie View Drive.
But she said all of the heartache and bills were worth it to be reunited with her dog.
"He was ecstatic," Alberico said. "He was so excited, I couldn't put the collar on his head."
Rantoul Comptroller Scot Brandon said village attorney Ken Beth had offered Alberico the option to get the dog out of town prior to a hearing last month about whether Harvey should be considered a vicious dog. But Alberico said she turned down that option because an animal rescue official told her she had a good chance of winning the case.
Asked whether he had been close to declaring the dog vicious, Brandon said, "The circumstance that happened met the definition of a vicious dog in the ordinance. But we wanted to provide them an opportunity and an alternative to having to put the dog down.
"We have to protect the public as well," Brandon said. "I think this agreement protects the public and provides her a chance to find an alternative place for the dog to live."
And that place will be outside of Rantoul. Alberico declined to indicate where she would be moving.
She will be making the move with the dogs, friend Heather Moriarity and Moriarity's 14-year-old daughter.
Terms of the agreement require that Harvey be moved out of Rantoul by Aug. 14; that he be muzzled and in the company of an adult if taken out the front door (he can play in the fenced-in backyard without a muzzle); and that he be kept in a gated room if visitors come to the house.
The dog did not appear to be a threat to humans when a reporter visited Alberico's house Thursday. He was friendly and was more interested in his ball than anything else.
At the July 11 hearing, Brandon heard two hours of testimony. At issue was whether Harvey fit the criteria of a vicious dog after he bit the thigh of a Doberman Pinscher that was walking with its owners, William Samples and his wife, in front of Alberico's home. The Doberman was on a leash.
Harvey and Larry the beagle had gotten out when some friends were leaving Alberico's house. The beagle was collared and taken back inside, but Harvey came up to the Doberman Pinscher — at first playfully, then latched onto the dog's thigh.
Attorney Angelica Wawrzynek of Mattoon said Samples was partly to blame became he became agitated and yelled to Alberico to "come get your dog" as he feared for their safety. Samples held his dog's head down so it would not get in a fight with Harvey.
Samples pulled out a pocket knife and threatened to stab Harvey if Alberico didn't get him away. He later relented and threw the knife on the ground. Alberico dragged Harvey away.
Samples testified that a tearful Alberico apologized to him after the incident, and she said he would have her dog "put down."
Alberico testified, however, that she asked Samples if she should have the dog put down, and he didn't say anything, so she walked away.
Samples said his dog was treated by the family veterinarian the next day, but no stitches were required. Samples said he sustained scratch marks on his arm but didn't get them treated at a medical facility.
Rantoul animal control officer Danny Russell said he classified Harvey as vicious after reviewing patrolman Burt Richter's report of the incident and after meeting with Police Chief Paul Farber and Lt. Jeff Wooten.
Harvey's case garnered a great deal of interest on the Internet. Alberico started a "Free Harvey Now" page on Facebook, which had 940 likes as of Thursday evening. A "Send Harvey Home" petition at Care2 had 450 signatures.
Supporters also wrote to Mayor Chuck Smith to ask that the dog be saved, Alberico said.
Alberico said she tried everything to get help for her dog but got little help.
"To me, when you get a dog, you promise it a forever home," she said. "When I adopted both Harvey and Larry, I promised I would take care of them. That's why the shelters are so full now. (People say), 'Oh, I've got to move. ... I don't want to keep my ... commitment.'"
Alberico said it took her two weeks to find a lawyer willing to take the case.
She said she didn't take the original offer to get Harvey out of town because she didn't know where he could go.
"I love my dog to death," Alberico said. "If I knew there was a family that would have just took him, I would have let him go. I'm not going to drop him off at another shelter. If I really thought my dog was vicious, I would have took him myself to be put down."
Russell said the village has had "a few" vicious dog cases over the years. He said some owners simply sign a release relinquishing ownership of the animal, and some dogs are euthanized.
Euthanization depends largely on a determination by county animal control officials.
"It depends on the behavior of the dog," Russell said.
In some cases, the dogs in question have bitten humans, some have bitten animals and some have killed animals, Russell said.
Dave Hinton is editor of the Rantoul Press, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit rantoulpress.com.