Dog Owner Arrested In Williston, ND

This family dog never hurt anyone, but her owner was still arrested

And we're paying her legal fees because she deserves justice

Woman Arrested Because Of How A Dog Looks

On March 22, 2022, Luna’s human best friends (ages 12 and 14) arrived home from school. Luna, the family dog, was beyond excited, as usual, to have them home. The kids did not close the front door fast enough, and Luna dashed out to go on a romp in the neighborhood. They immediately ran after her and had her home within minutes, but a neighbor had already called the police and said that “a pit bull was chasing children.” Jessica Burling, their mother, was arrested just over an hour later.

Watch the bodycam footage below, and remember, Luna has never hurt anyone.

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The above is a 20 minute edit. You can view the full version of what transpired here.

Luna was impounded for over 100 days. She is now home with her family, but Jessica’s legal issues aren’t over. You can see an update here.

A Vague Law Not Based on Science

Williston, North Dakota, has had a “pit bull” dog ban since 1987. Like all breed-specific legislation (BSL), it is inspired by scientifically disproven stereotypes and enforced with unscientific and subjective visual breed identification, leaving dog owners unsure whether or not their dog is considered “dangerous” by the city.

We’re investing in a million dollar lawsuit on behalf of dog owners, like Jessica, to sue the city. Jessica and her family are not a part of this lawsuit, but we have committed to paying her legal fees, as well. These could reach upwards of $300K.

Luna cozied up at home prior to this incident.

FAQ about the incident

Luna joined the Burling family four years ago when a customer at Jessica’s workplace was trying to sell the pup for $50. Jessica saw the puppy’s mother who the person said was a purebred Boxer.

Jessica was aware of BSL in Williston because years earlier she was cited for her boyfriend’s dog, Macho, who was labeled a Staffordshire Terrier by animal control. Macho went to live with family outside of the city. Again, the dog did not belong to Jessica, but she still received a citation. 

Puppy Luna didn’t look anything like Macho and the dog mom was certainly not a “pit bull” in Jessica’s mind.

Luna has lived with the family for four years and never bitten anyone inside or outside of her home.

Williston does not have animal control officers. Instead, they have community service officers (CSO).

When they arrived on scene, they searched for the dog, but of course, Luna was already home with her family. The person who filed the report told the officers where the dog lived. 

Jessica was at work, so her twelve year old daughter answered the door. Her daughter did not let them in the home, but she gave them her mother’s number and closed the door.

It was during this brief encounter with a minor, that a CSO saw Luna. The home does not have a screen door, so the officer could only have seen the dog through a front window. It is from this brief visual that the officer determined that she is a “pit bull” and Jessica should be arrested for a second offense of statute 4-89 “pit bull in the city limits.”

A CSO called Jessica, who agreed she would meet with officers after work.

When she finished her shift at a local bar, Jessica went home and put her daughter and the dog in the car. She planned to drop her daughter off at dance class and call animal control to determine a meeting location. What Jessica didn’t know is that the community service officers were staking out her house. When the CSOs saw Jessica put her daughter and Luna in the car, they called for police back-up, claiming Jessica was “fleeing with the dog.”

Still unaware that officers were watching her house, as Jessica pulled out of her driveway, she saw a Williston police car. Concerned the officer was on his way to her home, Jessica stopped her car, rolled down her window, and asked him if he was there to talk with her about her dog. When he said yes, she got out of her car to speak with him.

The bodycam footage tells the story of what happened next.

Important Follow-up Questions

Yes. Dogs belong on leashes when outside. However, the community service officers did not cite her for her dog being at-large.

Luna was at-large and in violation of dog control ordinances when the neighbor called the police. This is not the first time that she has gotten out.

Jessica installed an eight-foot fence with a privacy liner to keep Luna from escaping the backyard. But sometimes the children still make the mistake of not securing the front door. Like many parents, Jessica works and her children are home alone after school, which is when this incident took place.

Jessica knows having a dog at large is not in compliance with dog control ordinances.

But again, she was not cited for this. This makes it seem as if Williston Animal Control is concerned only with the appearance of public safety.

Jessica was charged with having a “pit bull in the city” due to the city’s breed-specific legislation.

As you see on the bodycam footage, the CSOs wanted to charge Jessica with “tampering with evidence” because they said she was “fleeing with the dog.” That contradicts the facts and the Williston police refused to add that charge.

However, the CSOs added a “vicious dog” citation after impounding Luna. From the official reports, the evidence for this is unclear, as it is a fact that Luna did not harm or chase anyone. Despite this, she has been away from her family for 42 days.

Copy of LUNA
Luna is so stressed away from her family that she has injured her nose rubbing it against her kennel space.

No. There is only one witness account that she was chasing children and that is from the person who called the police. That person’s account is inconsistent and it is not possible for it to be accurate:

According to Williston police dispatch reports, the witness reported that a “pit bull” has been “going after children” in Rickard Park, a nearby elementary school playground. When police arrived at the witness’ address, she was busy detailing a car in her driveway and reported that the same dog menaced her dog at the fence line.

But the caller lives a third of a mile from Rickard Park, which is eight houses and two cross streets away. How did she see the dog chasing children in the park and see the dog menacing her own dog at the fence line a third of a mile away?

The responding officer took photos of the fence line and entered them as evidence.

There is some discussion in the footage about who Luna technically belongs to. Jessica did purchase the dog, but as a gift for her boyfriend. The two are separating in May and he will take Luna when he moves out.

Good question.

Four Williston police officers in four police cruisers and two Williston community service officers responded to this call.

The dog was in a car, which animal control knew when they called for backup and the dog had never injured anyone.

A fifth officer arrived looking for the dog but left when it was determined the dog was back home. 

Not only was this government overreach, it was a waste of taxpayer dollars.

We do not know what their policy is. What we do know is that it’s not a scientific one, since the canine science community views identifying a dog based on its looks as subjective, unreliable, and often rooted in bias.

In any case, the only time a CSO had an opportunity to visually identify the dog was briefly through a window. It appears that, for Williston, a glimpse of a dog through a window is sufficient to initiate arrest.

Animal Farm Foundation is currently paying for legal representation for dog owners in Williston, ND, who have been impacted by BSL. Our case is in federal district court.

Jessica is not one of those dog owners, but she was given our lawyer’s number by a friend.

While the case is adjudicated, the City of Williston has agreed that it will not seize any dogs thought to be in violation of BSL. If charges additional to “pit bull in the city” are filed against owners, the dog can be impounded. The stipulation was agreed upon in March 2022.

We assume this is why the CSOs pushed for additional charges. This is how they could get away with keeping Luna away from her family for 42 days.

What would you do if you got a mixed breed puppy who looked nothing like what you thought a “pit bull” would look like? But then that dog grows up to fit your city’s arbitrary physical description of “pit bull” (remember, there is no physical standard). Should you give up your family’s dog?  Would you have the money to move out of your home and uproot your family? Would you even know that it met the random definition?

How can you help?

Help us collect data about the personal impact of breed restrictions, including BSL, by taking our survey.

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Download and read our breed-specific legislation toolkit, full of research and other information to help you advocate on behalf of families affected by these policies.

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