Investigative Report: One family's fight against Bay County's dangerous dog ordinance

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BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP)-- A few months ago we told you about one family's fight to bring their dog Marley home, and that fight went viral.

Picture Courtesy: Johnothan Jones

After biting his owner's stepson twice, a judge ruled the Jones family could bring their dog home if they comply with the dangerous dog requirements, but Marley still is not home.

"I have received numerous emails over the last six months about Marley," said Bay County Commissioner Guy Tunnell. "Some coming from as far as England and the great northwest."

Commissioners, newsrooms, and animal activists have been flooded with pleas to save Marley. The German shepherd lab mix is accused of three bites, enough to be deemed dangerous under Bay County's dog ordinance. It's a law that owner Johnothan Jones doesn't agree with.

"It's a sad situation because there's many other things that the county could be spending their resources on other than trying to remove a family pet who was acting as a protective dog should," Jones said.

Jones took his fight to social media. His "GoFundMe" account accrued more than $15,000 in donations, and a website selling t-shirts has raised another $1,400.

"That's a pretty huge statement of support from people all around the world to say, 'Look, there's something not right about this,'" said Jones.

Not right, he says, is labeling Marley dangerous. To bring the dog home, Jones must put up a fence and get liability insurance. County commissioners want to know how that isn't possible, considering the amount of money raised.

"As you go through the process to challenge it, could he not be at home? You have the money now to be able to set him up at home," said Bay County Commissioner Bill Dozier.

"Those funds have all been spent," said Jones. "Those funds are sitting in his attorney fees as well as kennel fees."

"I can't imagine legal fees being that extreme," said Tunnell. "It's not like its a capital murder case or something."

We sat down with Jones to try to see how much money he needs to comply with the law. We asked him to provide us with documents to prove that all of the donations were spent on legal and kennel bills.

Jones said, "We have nothing to hide about what we've been going through to try to fight this good fight."

After asking him several times for documentation, Jones sent us an email saying, "I will not release the billing statements until this litigation is concluded so as to provide the most accurate costs involved for any pet owner who tries to fight for their dog in Bay County, Florida."

His lawyer, Jason Johnson, tells us so far legal fees are close to $10,000. Jones has also paid $2,236 in kennel fees and still owes another $400, and he's bought insurance that comes to $689.85. If you total it up, there's still more money in his GoFundMe account that could be used to pay for necessities to bring Marley home, yet still, he hasn't.

"I mean I want him to come home, he needs to be home with our family. But it's also a double edged sword because here he's being prosecuted that something that legally he shouldn't have even been involved with the county," said Jones.

In county emails about the dog, Tunnell writes, "I was extremely upset to find out that Marley could have been taken home months ago. The owner could have easily taken Marley home while the case moved through the resolution process... it has been suggested that the owner might have enjoyed the attention that was being generated by the matter and perhaps the monies being raised through Marley's GoFundme account."

Jones says bringing Marley home would be accepting the dangerous dog title.

"You can never challenge the dangerous dog," said Jones. "You can never appeal it once it's set, it's set for life, which is absolutely too extreme."

"There are things he could have done to make this situation a heck of a lot better than it is right now and the unfortunate thing is the dog's caught in the middle of all this," said Tunnell.

So for now Marley will stay away from his family while the fight continues.

Jones said, "He shouldn't be deemed dangerous."

Jones' appeal is now pending before a circuit judge. His next court date has not been set.