Amid tears — and a few shouts — the McKearn family surrendered their dogs to the city Thursday morning. But first, they asked a judge if they could euthanize the dogs instead.
The dogs, a pit bull and a bull mastiff, are accused of leaping out of a window at their home, running across the street and attacking a smaller dog being walked by its owner. That dog later died of its injuries, and a court hearing next week will determine the fate of the McKearns’ dogs.
Lindsay McKearn said she would rather see the dogs dead “on our own terms” than in a city shelter for a week.
“We came to the conclusion last night — it was very painful — that we’re going to put them to sleep today, on our own terms,” she said.
But Sean McKearn called City Court Judge Stephen Swinton first to find out if euthanization would meet the judge’s requirement that he surrender the dogs Thursday. Swinton had said he would jail McKearn if he didn’t surrender the dogs.
The judge said he had to surrender the dogs alive, Lindsay McKearn said, so she reluctantly agreed to do it. Lindsay McKearn had been hiding the dogs from everyone — including her brother — and refused to tell him where they were, even when Swinton said he had to find out or he could be jailed.
It turned out the dogs were with friends in Saratoga County. Lindsay McKearn sent her father, Kevin, to pick up the dogs Wednesday night so they could have one last night together, she said.
Although the dogs are legally owned by Sean McKearn — the licenses are in his name — Lindsay McKearn said she has been their lifelong companion. They sleep with her at night, and she is closely attached to them. The siblings, both in their 20s, live at home with their father and the dogs.
While Sean McKearn made it clear he was willing to surrender the dogs and fight for their lives in court, his sister and father wanted the dogs safely out of reach of Schenectady police. They argued that Schenectady’s new shelter was “inhumane” and it would be better to euthanize the dogs than send them there.
“That’s how bad we don’t want them there,” Lindsay McKearn said. “It’s solitary confinement for dogs. There’s no human interaction. There’s no air conditioning.”
When the dogs were moved to the shelter Thursday, they were each given a bed and placed in small runs with two small windows, one of which directly faces the outdoors. The floors are concrete and are cleaned with hoses.
Animal Control Officer James O’Brien put the dogs in the runs, along with toys the family had sent. Sean McKearn also sent his towel and cap so the dogs could smell something familiar.
When the dogs were taken away, the family was sure the toys would be tossed aside. Inside the house, tensions ran high. Lindsay McKearn was in tears, while her brother was impatient to do the unpleasant task.
Then Lindsay McKearn balked. She saw the cages in which the dogs were to be transported to the shelter and ran out to confront animal control officers. The dogs needed to be together, she argued.
“They need to sleep together,” she shouted.
Sean McKearn responded by sharply telling his sister she had caused the mess by hiding the dogs in the first place. The city had agreed to let them stay at Milton Manor, a private boarding kennel, but he said she spirited them away to friends instead, leading to a week-long hunt for the dogs.
“This is why this is happening right now,” Sean McKearn shouted at his sister.
He stomped out to talk with animal control officers again, then came back and put leashes on the dogs. He tried to press his sister to walk one of the dogs out, but she was crying and searching for toys.
He took the moment to say good-bye, patting both dogs encouragingly.
“You guys will be fine! You guys are tough!” he said.
Lindsay McKearn rushed to the cages after the dogs were locked inside.
“I promise, I’m going to get you out of there,” she said.
And then the big white van drove away, as she sat on her porch steps and sobbed.
She is still hoping for some option other than death for the dogs. Her friends in Saratoga County are willing to take Vic, she said.
“They fell in love with him,” she added.
Sean McKearn agreed with his sister on one thing — the dogs were no true danger.
“I could understand all this if they were dangerous,” he said, “but look at them.”
The dogs let Sean McKearn’s 2-year-old son play with them. They greeted a dozen strangers with calm interest. There was no barking or jumping.
But when Vic sees a dog outside, the family said, he gets “aggressive.” Vic has bitten three dogs, most recently on June 30.
Tyson spends most of his time sleeping, Lindsay McKearn said, and she doubted he was actually a participant in the fight. Sean McKearn said Tyson might have joined in if he thought Vic was in danger.
He thinks separating the dogs would help, and Lindsay McKearn said it would be “easy” to find a new home willing to take Tyson.
She hasn’t given up on getting them back, either.
“I’m going to be moving, and I want to adopt them,” she said.
Their fate will be decided at a hearing Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. in City Court.