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They fought to get their dogs back. It was too late

Sasse, an American Staffordshire Terrier mix pictured here at 4 years old, was taken from Janice and Keith Huston in October 2015 after they were accused of animal abuse. Although the charges were lated expunged, Sasse was euthanized by Grand Strand Humane Society before the Hustons could recover her.
Sasse, an American Staffordshire Terrier mix pictured here at 4 years old, was taken from Janice and Keith Huston in October 2015 after they were accused of animal abuse. Although the charges were lated expunged, Sasse was euthanized by Grand Strand Humane Society before the Hustons could recover her. Courtesy Janice Huston

An Indiana couple’s dogs were taken from them and one was euthanized while they were on vacation in Myrtle Beach in 2015.

“Our lives have been ripped apart,” said Janice Huston, of Indianapolis. “We’re trying to heal.”

Now, the couple has filed a lawsuit against Grand Strand Humane Society, the city of Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach police and the hotel where they stayed for an unspecified amount of damages.

Janice and Keith Huston visited Myrtle Beach in October 2015 and stayed at the Mermaid Inn at 5400 N. Ocean Blvd. with their two dogs, Sasse and Arthur, who were then 16 and 11 years old. According to the lawsuit they filed in March, the Hustons expected it would be the last beach trip for Sasse, who was nearing the end of her life.

“[Sasse] was thin, but she definitely was being fed,” Janice Huston said of the American Staffordshire terrier mix. “For her age, she didn’t have any issues, she wasn’t sick, she ate, we just had to feed her differently because she was getting old.”

The couple said they introduced the dogs to staff at the hotel during their visit and assured them the animals were well taken care of. The Hustons said they also stayed in the Mermaid Inn earlier that year without incident.

But on Oct. 29, 2015, the couple returned to their room to find police there. They were promptly arrested and accused of animal abuse.

“It was just straight from the beach to the back of the squad car,” Keith Huston said.

It was just straight from the beach to the back of the squad car.

Keith Huston, who was arrested on animal cruelty charges that have since been dismissed.

Keith and Janie Huston said that they had dog food in their room at the time of the arrest and could have shown the dogs were well tended, but officers were forceful about the arrest and removed them from the room even before Keith Huston was able to put on a pair of shoes.

Their lawsuit names the two officers involved in the arrest. The officers’ answer to the suit denied much of the Hustons’ claims and said the officers were acting in good faith. James Battle, an attorney representing Myrtle Beach, the police department and the two officers, said he could not comment on the case. An attorney for the Mermaid Inn could not be reached.

The Hustons were not released on bail until the next day, at which point both dogs had been taken to Grand Strand Humane Society. They claim the shelter refused to tell the couple anything about the dogs when they arrived—something the shelter denies in court documents.

The Hustons quickly hired a lawyer to deal with the charges and recover the dogs. But on Nov. 4, 2015, Keith Huston received a call from the attorney that Sasse was euthanized the day before—five days after the dogs were taken into the shelter’s custody.

“Our lives have never been the same,” Janice Huston said.

Andrew Halio, an attorney for Grand Strand Humane Society, could not be reached. The nonprofit’s answer to the lawsuit, which was moved to federal court in June, does admit that the shelter killed Sasse. It does not offer additional details on the situation and broadly denies the Hustons’ other claims.

Arthur was not returned until more than two months later, on Jan. 4, 2016, after the charges against the Hustons were dropped.

Arthur was “suffering from glassy eyes, vomiting and obesity,” the lawsuit said. The couple said the Jack Russell terrier had missing teeth and was so obese they didn’t recognize him at first. Grand Strand denied in court documents that Arthur was mistreated or returned in a poor condition.

“I had to fight pretty hard to [recover Arthur] and it cost us a lot,” Janice Huston said. “He was never the same after he got back.”

The couple said they have spent $10,000 so far in attorney’s fees, money paid to Grand Strand to get Arthur back and other costs as they traveled back and forth from Indiana to Myrtle Beach for weeks.

In July of this year, Arthur died.

“We just want people to hear this story and maybe it wont happen to anyone else,” Janice Huston said. “We just want to see the whole thing end and end correctly.”

Chloe Johnson: 843-626-0381, @_ChloeAJ

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