Good Friday took on a new meaning this year when a dog once sentenced to death arrived safely at the Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center (SPARC) in southern California.
Lladk’s journey to freedom involved multiple donors, dozens of rescuers, countless supporters — including the close to 47,000 people who signed Lady Freehthinker’s petition demanding justice for the beloved dog — and months of legal battles.
The 4-year-old Alaskan Malamute had faced a county-ordered euthanasia from the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners in Oregon last July after he bit his family’s toddler, who had a history of gnawing, teething, and possibly biting him repeatedly. The family did not want Lladk to die. Neither did dog experts, animal advocates, and attorneys challenging Lladk’s new label as a “dangerous dog” under the county’s codes.
They launched a 9-month fight to save his life. After six federal appeals, weekend protests, relentless coordinating, and collaboration across lawyers, rescues, and states — and just in time for Easter Sunday, widely recognized as a time of hope and rebirth — the result is this:
Lladk is free.
The dog joyfully stepped onto a 2,000-acre sanctuary that is now his permanent home eager to please, ready for affection, and curious about the horses, said SPARC President Tara Diller with a laugh.
“His story really resonated with us, and looking at the entirety of the situation, we didn’t feel he would be a danger,” Diller said. “And he is the biggest lover boy. He just wants to be loved and to be around people.”
Lady Freethinker covered the costs of Lladk’s transportation from an Oregon county dog shelter to southern California. Founder Nina Jackel thanked the generous and continuous support of our community for making that possible.
“I am so thrilled that this beautiful dog was spared what seemed like certain death,” Nina said. “Thank you to all who worked relentlessly to save Lladk’s life and ensure his future happiness.”
For those involved, including Diller, the outcome was worth it.
“There were so many nos along the way, hard nos, and euthanasia dates, and now the outcome that he is safe, and he’ll get to live out his life, that makes it worth it,” Diller said. “The entirety of his story is what makes it so special.”
A Village To The Rescue
Soon after Lladk was impounded at the county shelter, animal advocate Gail O’Connell-Babcock started working feverishly on raising awareness about his case. Pamela Jo, executive director of the Lake Tahoe Wolf Rescue, also joined the cause.
The women spent hours filing public records requests, reading court documents, calling rescues to see if anyone could take Lladk, and adjusting to ever changing county conditions and court outcomes. They also launched petition, email and phone campaigns on Lladk’s behalf, as did Lady Freethinker.
“It was the bombardment of all the emails, calls, and petition signatures that got the commissioners to stop and listen and release him,” Jo said.
While animal activists were working tirelessly on the advocacy front for Lladk, Animal Attorney Adam Karp kept up a steady stream of court filings, seeking stays on the execution, emergency motions and preliminary injunctions in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — all of which, after a Jan. 13 reprieve, were denied.
Karp also turned to frequent contacts with Scott Ciecko, the county’s legal counsel, to explore options the commissioners might accept — other than euthanasia — for Lladk.
Eventually, they agreed on a settlement, in which the county would release Lladk to a rescue that promised not to rehome him, and Karp would release the county from his lawsuits. A generous foreign donor also paid all of Lladk’s outstanding boarding fees at the county shelter — around $3,800 — so he could be released, Karp said.
Then, it was “down to the wire” to get Lladk out, said Meredith Brooks, a singer-turned long-time animal advocate and a board member of the Never Cry Wolf Sanctuary in California, who picked up the baton in the last two weeks of Lladk’s journey to freedom.
Brooks, who heard about Lladk’s case from an existing contact with the Washington Alaskan Malamute Adoption League (WAMAL), volunteered to drive several hours to meet up with WAMAL team members Eileen and Tami to transport Lladk to the approved sanctuary.
She didn’t know what to expect. Nine months in a shelter would be traumatic for any dog, and Lladk had also been kept heavily sedated during his stay, Brooks said.
“Can you make a dog into a monster? Yes, you can,” she said. “But Lladk never bit anyone in that nine months, and he was sweet. So that is incredible.”
She described her first impression of Lladk as a “beautiful, fluffy, bouncy dog who didn’t know whether to sniff around or get love.”
“We teared up,” she said. “This was their dangerous dog? He loved on all of us. He is awesome, far from a dangerous dog.”
Brooks said the transport with the WAMAL drivers was “the most professional transport ever,” with the small team meticulously following safety checklists. During their first hotel stop-over into the 15-hour, more-than-950-mile journey to the sanctuary, Lladk watched Animal Planet, cuddled in bed, and snored.
The dog’s luck continued to hold out. When Brooks unloaded Lladk onto the sanctuary’s land and met his future handler, she said she knew he had “hit the lottery.”
“He has his own area, on a 2,000 acre sanctuary, and is around other dogs, and then this guy comes out to meet and walk him for the first time and says to Lladk, ‘Where do you want to go? You choose,’” she recalled. “For me, that was it. This place was it. This guy was it.”
Diller said SPARC is grateful that they are able to give Lladk a permanent home through the generosity and support of their donors and community.
“We feel grateful that we were in a position to save his life,” she said. “But it really took a village, and everyone who did the hard work deserves the credit. We’re just lucky enough to love him and to give him a life, and a happy life.”
Clackamas County, in the northwestern part of Oregon, is home to about 418,000 people. The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners had gathered last year to discuss Lladk’s euthanasia. Numerous times, they expressed concerns about taxpayer dollars, liability, and their responsibility to uphold public safety.
Those concerns remained on April 1, when during their routine, open public meeting, they gathered to discuss something novel: a proffered settlement.
County Attorney Scott Ciecko acknowledged that the courts had affirmed the county’s ability to euthanize Lladk. But he also noted that ongoing litigation came with risks and costs. His eyes bright, his tone upbeat, Ciecko announced to commissioners that a sanctuary had stepped forward with the county-required one million dollar insurance plan, which resolved the county of any liability, and a promise not to adopt Lladk out.
He also had crafted a payment plan through which Lladk’s former guardians could pay back the dog’s boarding fees — $7,500 in total, for his 9-month stay since July — in easier-to-handle installments that still would steward taxpayer dollars.
The announcement met with mixed reactions from commissioners.
WATCH the county’s discussion about Lladk (starting at 3:07 to about 20:00)– Story continues below
Chairperson Tootie Smith said installments were not an option approved by the commission in former discussions.
“I am not inclined to release the dog until all payments are made in full, and I thought we were pretty clear on that,” she said. “You say these people cannot afford to pay. These people have exhausted every single court remedy, all the way to the Ninth Circuit Court. They seem to have had some place along the line enough resources to do that.”
Commissioner Paul Savas brought up questions about the county’s future liability, as well as how the county could recoup costs if Lladk’s guardians declined to pay after the dog was released from the county shelter. Ciecko assured him that the county had numerous venues, including issuing a breach of contract.
That reassured Commissioner Sonya Fisher, who said she trusted county legal with “full faith” to execute the settlement terms, and Commissioner Martha Schrader, who went so far as to say she would help fundraise to cover costs for Lladk if needed.
Schrader, during her comments, said she was married to a veterinarian and had dogs of her own — experiences that led her to believe that situations often ended up being the fault of a dog’s guardians, not the dog.
“I’m torn about this, because I really blame the owners more than I blame the dog,” Schrader said. “Get the dog out of here. Get the dog to a place where it can live its life out… if I need to get on the phone to fundraise for this, I’d be glad to do it. Honestly, I will.”
After a 20-minute discussion, the board approved the settlement terms with a 4-1 vote, with Smith dissenting.
Then came the long-awaited post in the Justice For Lladk Facebook page, started by Karp to keep the dog’s supporters informed.
“Happy to report that hours ago Lladk left the building,” Karp wrote, “and is en route to sanctuary. Many thanks to the community who came together, internationally, to save him.”
Karp, in a written statement, said he was delighted that Lladk would be able to spend years of “dog day afternoons to come, feeling the breeze, touching the grass, emancipated from his cell of nine months.” But the victory was bittersweet, including for the Kollenburns, Lladk’s former family, he added.
“I knew he loved and was loved and relied upon by each of the Kollenburns, so the evisceration from their lives caused appreciable psychic harm to all three,” Karp wrote to Lady Freethinker.
In the Justice for Lladk Facebook page, Caleb Kollenburg — one of Lladk’s former guardians — echoed those sentiments.
“We are so thankful,” Kollenburg wrote. “So many emotions, but we are so happy he is gonna live!”
A continuing fight
For several of the animal advocates who intervened on Lladk’s behalf, the 9-month battle isn’t over.
Their new target is the Clackamas County dangerous dog code, which O’Connell-Babcock says is outdated and ambiguous.
“Whether the designation was accurate or not by objective professional standards was never reviewed, never questioned,” she wrote about Lladk’s situation. “Execution starts with the county’s ordinance, which has unjustly condemned to death so many innocent companion dogs and left their families suffering in this county.”
She, and others, want the Clackamas county attorney and commissioners to review and amend the county’s dangerous dog codes so that dogs like Lladk have go-to options, other than euthanasia.
“The laws did not free Lladk. They imprisoned and nearly killed him,” O’Connell-Babcock said. “Left in place, those same laws will kill innocent animals again and again, unless citizens continue to speak out and protest as unrelentingly as they have for Lladk’s life.”
Several of those involved with Lladk’s rescue said interactions with county counsel had left them optimistic, with hope that best practices elsewhere would be considered.
But Kimberly Dinwiddle-Webb, in the official statement from the county board on the case, said the county stands by the decisions of its hearing officers and the municipal courts.
“Clackamas County is committed to ensuring safe, healthy, and secure communities,” she wrote to Lady Freethinker. “The current county dog code, which mirrors the state law requirements, helps us protect our residents from threats. While dogs bring joy, warmth, and love for many, we stand by the code and the hard decisions county staff and hearings officers make to follow that code to keep our community safe.”
Karp said he’s willing to engage if further discussions with the county about how they could amend the code to protect both dogs and people.
“I posted briefs that explain why the code suffers from serious constitutional infirmities that are bound to recur,” he said. “I trust that Mr. Ciecko will take a hard look at them as he advises the board. I stand ready to donate my time to assist as well.”
A happy ending
Meanwhile, Lladk is thriving at SPARC, likely oblivious to the hard work and worry of all those who banded together to save him.
He’s bonded already with his handler, as well as two of the eight dogs who share the sanctuary.
There was a minor incident, when Lladk went into a stable and saw a horse, but he’s getting used to them too, Diller said.
“I don’t think he had ever seen a horse,” Diller said. “He was curious. But he’s settled in, he’s bounced back pretty quickly. He just seems happy to be alive and free.”
Those interested in donating to SPARC to help with Lladk’s continual care and needs can do so here.
Editorial Note: Countless people and organizations came together to secure Lladk’s release from the Clackamas County Dog Services. We also want to extend special thanks to Jean-Marie Webster from SPARC, Deirdre Russell and Hal Negin from WAMAL, maritime Attorney Robert Babcock, Dog Shack’s Melanie Schiller, Desert Dog Project, Laurie L. Wolf of Equestrian Spirits, Inc., and Mary Ann Rogers from Husky Huddle. Although we couldn’t list everyone in the story, or here, we want everyone involved to know how much Lady Freethinker appreciates your support and action for Lladk. Thank you!