Nov. 12 2008 12:00 AM

A giant dog that allegedly bit a kid cost $20,000 to defend, which has now grown to$31,200 because of a fence.

Brodie and Thome. (Courtesy photo)
Brodie, the 185-pound St. Bernard that allegedly bit a 7 year old in the face last May, is out of jail — so to speak — but his owner is still in the red.

The $20,000 tab for defending the bite incident has now grown to $31,200 because of a court-required fence. And neither Maxine Thome, Brodie’s legal owner, nor his accusers are happy about the outcome.

Thome intends to address the Ingham County Board of Commissioners about the way Brodie’s case was handled. Jamie McAloon-Lampman, director of Ingham County Animal Control, is disgruntled that Brodie bit a child and is now allowed to live free, but she is moving on, to oversee a dog-fighting task force and a city-county crackdown on people who don’t care for their animals.

When Thome was charged in May with harboring a malicious animal after Brodie was accused of biting the neighborhood child, she and her partner, Rosemary Rupert, went into fighting mode. Thome took out a home-equity loan and hired a lawyer. And $20,000 later, Brodie was given a reprieve.

Judge Patrick Cherry said he had no doubt that the dog bit the child, but gave Thome until Nov. 5 to build a yard enclosure, screening the top as well as the sides. Cherry also ordered Thome to hire a bonded and licensed dog walker and take out a $500,000 liability insurance policy, which she had already done.

The fence, about 12 feet of black chain link with a criss-cross wire system across the top, cost $11,200. Last week, county animal control approved the fence, and Brodie came home from the kennel where he had been boarded since May.

Brodie’s house on Osborne Street in Lansing’s Westside Neighborhood is really Thome and Rupert’s — but it feels like the couple is incidental, even though they provide the food and shelter for the three dogs and three cats that live there. In addition to Brodie, there is Ryan, a 125-pound Burmese mountain dog, and Skylar, a 30-pound Maltese mix. Brodie, 8, who is neutered, rules the roost. He is territorial, yet friendly, herding visitors while slobbering on them. He paws for attention, which was the cause of the child’s injuries, Thome testified in court.

While Thome and Rupert savor their family, still saying Brodie never bit anyone, they prepare their case for the county commissioners, hoping to show that Animal Control functions with too heavy a hand, refusing to negotiate or even listen to dog owners’ sides.
But McAloon-Lampman hears owners’ denials regularly. And once Thome hired a lawyer, protocol required lawyers to speak to other lawyers.

A visit to McAloon-Lampman’s office in Mason is similar to a visit to Brodie’s house. Dogs greet visitors, too. But these are the ones who have been left behind by families who could no longer afford them.

The biting dogs are kenneled in the back. While the incidence of dog bites has increased only slightly in Ingham County (435 in 2005, and 495 in 2006), the severity of the bites has grown. (In 2005, 1,788 summonses were issued for owners’ not caring for their animals, including the animals that have bitten; McAloon-Lampman projected an increase to 2,065 in 2008.)

The key to getting a handle on the bites is licensing, she said, because that gives an incentive to have an animal neutered. Neutering tends to tame aggression, she said. A sterilized dog’s license is $12 compared to $42 for an un-sterilized dog. The county issued 22,000 animal licenses last year, the most ever, she said.

Nearly 90 percent of fatal dog bites are by un-neutered animals, she said. Nearly all the chronic cases come from animals that have never been to a veterinarian. And, the cases cannot be traced to breed; it’s nearly always the owner, she said.

While McAloon-Lampman takes on the swelling countywide caseload, including a growing dog-fighting trend and families getting rid of pets because of the poor economy, Maxine Thome’s case with Brodie is not entirely resolved. Earlier this week, she was notified that the family of the girl who says she was bitten is seeking damages through Thome’s home insurance. She expects they will settle out of court but fears her insurance premiums will be affected. Or the policy could be canceled, she mused.

But, at least her family is united.

“We feel whole again,” she said.