Onion the dog

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Onion the dog of Henderson, Nevada, became an international focal point for animal welfare advocates in their struggle against municipalities and their animal control departments after the death of the family child who was injured by the dog.


The six-year old 120-lb mastiff/Rhodesian ridgeback mix family dog was in attendance at the birthday party of the family’s one-year old tot on April 27, 2012, when at 10:00 p.m. the dog, who was lying on the floor in complete darkness next to the baby after the day-long celebration, became startled as the baby grabbed him. The dog began shaking the baby’s head with his mouth.

The father heard the commotion and ran into room, turned on the lights, and yelled "stop" to the dog. The well-behaved and obedient dog immediately stopped shaking the baby. The baby died the next day after emergency hospital care.[1][2][3]

The family had called the paramedics and took the baby outside the home. There, the City of Henderson Animal Control, in the middle of the horrific turmoil, waved papers in front of the grandmother of the family, who hurriedly signed them in her grief. She was unaware that in so doing, she had surrendered Onion to the city of Henderson for euthanasia.

Focus for Animal Welfare Groups

For decades, national and local animal welfare groups have argued that municipal codes have been prejudicial against dog that are ruled aggressive against humans and that the fault lays largely with neglect and poor training on the part of dog owners. The case of Onion became a focal point for efforts of such groups.

Reading about the tragedy, Les Golden of Oak Park, Illinois, an animal welfare activist, went into action.[4] He contacted the mastiff rescue who referred him to Blue Lion Rescue in Colorado. When their director Ms. Lisa Kavanaugh said she would take Onion, Golden contacted Brian Haynes, a writer for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, whose article Golden had read.

Golden contacted Haynes and told him that his group was interested in saving the dog. When his subsequent article was printed locally, the story became national news (see Appendices below for some links), and a reader informed Golden of the Lexus Project, a New York-based animal rescue group under the direction of a New York attorney. Golden was asked by the Lexus Project, and succeeded, in obtaining local counsel in Nevada, spurred on by Golden's contacting the Blue Lion Rescue through the national mastiff rescue in Houston, Texas.

After local authorities declared the event to be an “accident,” a national animal welfare group advocated for his release to the Blue Lion Rescue Animal Sanctuary in Dover, Colorado.[5] [6] The licensed, 501c3, non-profit 35-acre sanctuary is nationally-known for dealing specifically with large breed dogs considered to be aggressive under municipal codes. Donations to cover court costs in the name of Onion can be made directly to Blue Lion Rescue through its website noted below.

Golden received an email from an animal lover who suggested he get legal counsel in Nevada through the Lexus Project, of New York, a nationally-known dog rescue group. He was told by Richard Rosenthal, the head of Lexus, on Friday, to find local representation in Las Vegas through which Lexus would work. Although facing this daunting task, Golden found not one but two such local counsel was located in Las Vegas. On Monday and Tuesday, Lexus worked with the Las Vegas attorney and obtained a restraining order saving Onion for at least a week.

One week later, after lobbying by a friend of Golden's in Las Vegas, the family turned over ownership of Onion to the Lexus Project and presented an affidavit to the court that they wished the dog to be transferred to the Blue Lion Sanctuary.

Nonetheless, Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen refused to relinquish the dog to the sanctuary despite hundreds of postings to Las Vegas television and newspaper websites supporting compassion and clemency and the raising of sufficient money to pay for his transport from Henderson to Colorado by Blue Lion Rescue trained staff.

Temporary Restraining Order

On May 7, the Clark County court granted a temporary restraining order filed on behalf of the dog by a New York animal welfare group, The Lexus Project.[7] The events reached international scope after issuance of the TRO.[8] A “Save-Onion” trust was established to provide for the care of the dog and a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/pages/Save-Onion/373825145997519)was created to receive donations and provide current developments.

Court Appearances

On Friday, May 11, at 10:00 in the Clark County courthouse, a hearing was held on the attempts by The Lexus Project to obtain custody of Onion. The judge refused to grant custody, and a filing was immediately made to the Supreme Court of Nevada.

A hold on the destruction of the dog was placed, with no termination while the courts review the filings.

On June 6, 2012, the City of Henderson filed a 300-page motion to have the courts order the destruction of Onion.

Appeal to Supreme Court

Las Vegas attorney Dominique Geller, working with the Lexus Project, prepared a brief which led the Nevada Supreme Court to accept the appeal from the District Court. In an unprecedented act, they heard oral argument on July 3, 2013. During that hearing, the City of Henderson admitted that the dog had not been walked one single time since his imprisonment, in defiance of the District Court's order on granting the TRO.

On December 19, 2013, the Supreme Order remanded the case back to the District Court for an evidentiary hearing, noting that despite lengthy commentary and conclusions of fact no evidence had been presented.[9][10]

Exercise Issue

On December 19, 2013, the Lexus Project, following months of commentary by dog lovers and supporters of Onion, filed a motion to extend the stay and provide exercise for Onion. The City noted that beginning in November, 2013, the dog was being walked for ten minutes twice a week. This led his supporters to clamor for additional compassion toward the dog, now in his 8th year.

Henderson Gives Up and Onion is Released

On Thursday, January 23, 2014, the city of Henderson gave up and released Onion to Richard Rosenthal of the Lexus Project.[11][12] The dog had been incarcerated for almost two years and his freedom, starting with Golden's initiative, was finally achieved. The dog, bid a farewell by dog pound staff who obviously had gotten affectionate with the dog, licked Rosenthal and jumped into his van. They drove to an out-of-state sanctuary. Upon arriving, Onion and Rosenthal played non-stop for 45 minutes with Onion's favorite dog, a helicopter.

Henderson claimed they released the dog out of compassion for Onion's family, so that they wouldn't have to relive the circumstances of the death of Jeremiah. In fact, the judge who had sentenced Onion to death on the basis of evidence when in fact no evidentiary hearing had been held, and who was now being directed to hold such, had much prestige to lose from further proceedings. The City would be ripped apart by Rosenthal when their animal control officer would be revealed to have violated due process by, for example, forcing Onion's owner Keller to sign over ownership when she was trying to keep her grandson alive and didn't allow Keller from even reading let alone explaining the form. In addition, Las Vegas area supporters of Onion had shown they would be vocal about what they considered his lack of adequate exercise at the hands of the city and the city no doubt wanted to avoid further bad publicity.

DONATING to the Onion the Dog Initiative

Outline of Proposal

1. Summary
2. History of Onion the Dog Case
3. Legal Strategy for Similar Cases
4. Revisions of Animal Law Statutes
5. Donation Procedures

1. Summary

In 2012 alone, four cases have been reported in the media in which a family dog has severely injured an infant in the family leading to death of the infant. In all cases, negligence on the part of the family is partially to blame. In most cases, the event was determined to be an accident. Unfortunately, in all cases, the dog was deemed vicious based on local municipal law and slated for euthanasia.

We are involved in a case with saving a dog in Henderson, Nevada, which has received international news coverage. If the group with whom we are working succeeds in having him transported to the Blue Lion Animal Rescue Sanctuary, a 501c3 licensed 35-acre facility near Denver, the result will be a watershed event in protecting hundreds of young children in homes with dogs and in preventing undeserved euthanasia of hundreds of dogs in the years to come. This will be accomplished by significant revision of municipal laws on animal control throughout the country, focusing on compassion for animals. The process of revising such laws is already beginning in several cities.

If we are successful, a book on the subject, two publishers already having expressed a strong interest, will also be published as a further guide to saving children and dogs.

In short, this is much larger than saving the life of a single dog. It can save many children from being injured, and killed, and many dogs from being unfairly destroyed. It will lead to a reconsideration of our relationship to dogs by virtue of new animal laws throughout the country.

All funds donated will be used to pay filing fees and bonds with the Nevada Supreme Court and appellate courts. The balance will be used to reimburse the lead Nevada attorney for out-of-pocket expenses on previous filings and to begin a fund for future court fees.

The attorneys are all working pro bono. No money has been or will be paid for attorneys’ fees.

2. History of Onion the Dog Initiative

The current situation concerns Onion the dog, a six-year old, 120 pound mastiff/Rhodesian ridgeback mix, of Henderson, Nevada. In this case, the family had celebrated the one-year birthday of their child in a day-long party. The family left the baby on the floor next to the dog at 10:00 p.m. in complete darkness and not in its crib. Startled when the baby grabbed him, the dog may have thought the baby was a plaything and grabbed him and started shaking him, as dogs do with sticks, balls, and cloth toys. As soon as the father heard the commotion and came downstairs, he turned on the light and yelled to Onion to “stop.” The dog immediately stopped shaking the child. This is not a “vicious” dog. The baby, tragically, died the next day of the trauma. According to the family, the dog had never displayed aggressive behavior previously. The dog and child had a loving relationship and the tot regularly slept next to the dog, without incident. The dog was deemed vicious and slated for euthanasia following a 10-day quarantine period for rabies observation.

Reading about the tragedy, Les Golden of Oak Park, Illinois, an animal welfare activist, went into action. He contacted the mastiff rescue who referred him to Blue Lion Rescue in Colorado. When their director Ms. Lisa Kavanaugh said she would take Onion, Golden contacted Brian Haynes, a writer for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, whose article Golden had read.

Golden contacted Haynes and told him that his group was interested in saving the dog. When his subsequent article was printed locally, the story became national news (see Appendices below for some links), and a reader informed us of the Lexus Project, a New York-based animal rescue group under the direction of a New York attorney. We were asked by the Lexus Project, and succeeded, in obtaining local counsel in Nevada, and we were referred to the Blue Lion Rescue through the national mastiff rescue in Houston, Texas.

Blue Lion Rescue, under the direction of Ms. Lisa Kavanaugh, specializes in saving large breed dogs deemed to be dangerous or vicious. They expressed their willingness to take Onion. They do not place dogs that have had violent behavior in foster or new homes.

A trust was established in the name of Onion the dog by the Lexus Project and it was funded by us with $2500. The lawyers initiated litigation and obtained a stay of execution on the City of Henderson. At the first court hearing, the District Court in Las Vegas ruled that the Lexus Project, through their Las Vegas lawyers, had no ownership rights and therefore no standing and refused to continue the stay. The court, however, gave the Lexus Project time to file a response.

The family then relinquished ownership rights to the Lexus Project and stated in an affidavit to the court that they wanted the dog relocated to the Blue Lion Rescue. Despite this, the judge refused to acknowledge standing based on ownership and the Lexus Project successfully filed with the Nevada Supreme Court for an indefinite stay of execution until the case is decided.

Papers have now being filed in the case and the Supreme Court has them under consideration. A federal action based on the unconstitutionally-vague provisions of the City of Henderson animal statute is also under consideration. Please see the Appendices below for the link to the Nevada Supreme Court filings.

At this point, funds in the trust as well as donations to an online website have been depleted. The court costs for filing in the Nevada Supreme Court are payable. We attach the court filing receipts that we have been sent by the attorneys.

3. Legal Strategy for Similar Cases

The strategy developed by the Lexus Project is a model for similar cases throughout the country as well as a guide for proposed revision of municipal animal control statutes. A trust is established by donations to establish to the court that funds are available for court costs, transportation to a sanctuary, and food and medical care for the life of the dog at the sanctuary. To establish this trust, a federal EIN number is obtained. Donations are made into the trust and into an expense fund. Standing is then obtained either by family consent or, if the family has no interest, petitioning the city involved. In the thirty cases in which the Lexus Project has been involved, the dog has been saved. This includes a case earlier this year in which a Pennsylvania dog was deemed to have accidentally killed a child. The Lexus Project, as well as all local attorneys, work pro bono.

4. Revisions of Animal Law Statutes

To prevent the need for such litigation in the future, two attorneys drafted a revision of animal control laws. These have two parts. The first is to protect the children. It states that veterinarians as well as the local municipality upon the purchase of a dog license must provide a short brochure on precautions and common-sense guidelines on protecting small children in homes with dogs. This includes the most obvious, but frequently ignored guide, that an infant must sleep in a secure crib.

The second is to protect the dogs. It follows the legal strategy noted above. In short, if a dog is deemed vicious or dangerous and becomes slated for euthanasia, then, after the 10-day observation period for rabies, if a trust is created for transport of the dog and lifetime maintenance and if a sanctuary is willing to take the dog, then the dog can be sent to the sanctuary to live out its days.

This has been presented to the board of several cities in Illinois and is under consideration. The Animal Advisory Commission of Clark County, Nevada, is modifying it for presentation to the City of Henderson. A model version is presented below in the Appendices. These are meant as models for revision of animal control laws throughout the country, with compassion a major focus.

5. Donation Procedure

We ask if you view this proposal favorably that any donations be made through the Blue Lion Rescue. They are, as stated, a 501c3, licensed in the state of Colorado. Upon presentation of court receipts by the Las Vegas attorneys to the Lexus Project and Blue Lion, Blue Lion will then reimburse the costs to the attorneys. If checks are mailed, please note that the check should be made payable to Blue Lion Rescue but that a note should be written on the check that the funds are to be directed to “Save Onion Initiative.”

We are not associated in any manner with Blue Lion Rescue except in the current attempts to obtain the dog safe sanctuary there. The contact information is:

Lisa Kavanaugh, Director
Blue Lion Rescue Animal Sanctuary
P.O. Box 11
Yoder, Colorado 80864


1. Some internet and print press coverage (please google “Onion the dog” for additional cites)
2. Link to Nevada Supreme Court filings
3. Proposed revision of animal control laws

1. Some internet and print press coverage




http://www.denverpost.com/dontmiss/ci_20557622/halt-euthanasia-dog-that-kills-child-sought ;




2. Link to Nevada Supreme Court filings

http://caseinfo.nvsupremecourt.us/public/caseSearch.do (enter the search term “Lexus” under “caption contains”)

3. Proposed revision of animal control laws

Chapter -- Animals

I. Guide for Large Dog Owners

Upon each visit of an owner of a domesticated animal to a licensed veterinarian or to (community) hall to purchase an animal license or by mail if the animal license is purchased by mail, if the animal either weighs 50 or more pounds or is likely to attain that weight upon maturity, the veterinarian or (community) health department shall provide the owner a booklet describing the manner of training and precautionary measures if a young child is living in the household. The booklet shall be created by the health department in consultation with a licensed veterinarian and shall be published on the (community) webpage in addition to being available in printed form at the (community) health department. The booklet shall also be printed in large type and hung as a poster on the wall of each licensed veterinarian in (community).

II. Vicious and Dangerous Dogs: Sparing of Euthanasia

As an alternative to the procedure set forth in this section, an animal which has a) been declared vicious or dangerous, b) not been removed from the (community) pursuant to this section which faces euthanasia, shall be spared euthanasia if the following conditions are met:

1. The animal has passed the 10-day state-mandated quarantine period in accordance with the provisions of the State statutes and any regulations promulgated pursuant thereto, as amended from time to time, without evidence of rabies;

2. A licensed sanctuary for animals of the animal's breed has expressed to the (community) health department its willingness to house the animal for its lifetime, without possibility of being placed for adoption;

3. A trust fund for the animal has been established to transport the animal to the sanctuary, provide for the care of the animal at the sanctuary during its lifetime, and for transport of the animal from the (community) to the sanctuary;

4. Transport from the (community) to the sanctuary has been arranged with a licensed animal transporter;

5. A liability insurance policy has been purchased by the trust indemnifying the (community) , county,, and the State of (your state) against damage and injury resulting from the possible escape of the animal during the hours of its transport to the sanctuary, in addition to insurance carried by the animal transporter.

Upon request by the trustees of the trust established hereunder to the (community) attorney, an administrative hearing shall be held no more than 14 days after the termination of the rabies quarantine and shall deliberate whether conditions 1 through 5 above have been met for sparing from euthanasia. If all conditions have not been met, the trustee of the trust established hereunder shall be so notified by the (community) attorney and shall have 10 days to meet those conditions, at which time a second hearing shall be held.

The (community) attorney shall notify the trustees of the trust of the finding of the administrative board. If it is determined that conditions 1 through 5 above have been met, the (community) shall relinquish ownership of the animal to the trustees of the trust via the licensed animal transporter and the animal shall be transported to the sanctuary at the earliest date possible.

The trust shall reimburse the (community) for its costs in maintaining the animal from the date of notification of the trustee of the trust that conditions 1 through 5 have been met until such time as transportation to the sanctuary is effected.


External links

  • [1] Blue_Lion_Rescue_Animal_Sanctuary_to_Make_Donations_toward_court_costs_to_Save_Onion
  • [2] Save_Onion__FACEBOOK_Page
  • [3] The_Lexus_Project
  • [4] Link_to_Nevada_Supreme_Court_filings_(use_search_term_Lexus)