Dan Tillery and his girlfriend live in Michigan and started a chain of events that seem to be straight out of a drama. It all started when the two realized their dream together, adopting a dog from a rescue shelter. There are arguments, still, about rescuing a dog versus buying a dog, buy neither side expected a rescue to lead to this. Dan and his girlfriend were overjoyed to adopt their new pup and felt that everything was working out perfectly. But posting a picture with the smiling Diggy lead to events that were unbelievable as the police first got involved.

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Nothing More than a Stray?

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This story starts with a story that happens every day. Detroit Animal Control picked up a two-year-old stray that was wandering the streets. Detroit Dog Rescue (DDS), quickly picked up the dog as they were a no-kill shelter. They had already picked up a dozen strays that day and had no room left to transport him, so he sat alone in a cage, waiting for his fate. But fate had other ideas for him.

 A Chance Encounter

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While the stray waited, he had a chance encounter with Kristina Rinaldi, who just so happened to be the executive director of DDR. She, and the rest of the volunteers had already fallen for the dog and his sad plight and decided to do something remarkable. Kristina picked up the dog, put him in her car and headed off. This was fates first step in the coming chain of events that would involve countless individuals.

A Personality to Change the World

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With the stray now safely at DDR, the sadness wore off and the true personality of the little guy started to shine through. Quickly he became known as Sir Wiggleton. This name came about due to a wiggling dance he would do with his hindquarters each time he was excited. They knew he was special and they knew he needed a home.

The Next Piece of the Story

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Sir Wiggleton as he had become known, wasn’t the only part of this story. Without Dan entering the picture, the story would not have unfolded the way in which it did. Dan, from Waterford Township, and his girlfriend had just moved in to a new home and they felt that now was the time to finally adopt a dog. Searching through DDRs Facebook page, they found just the right one. One that would lead to Dan becoming well known on the internet.

Two Worlds Collide

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Upon seeing Sir Wiggleton, Dan and his girlfriend knew they needed to act quickly as they had already fallen in love with the dog. They arranged a time to met the puppy and headed to Detroit Dog Rescue to see if they were a match. They would need to take him home for a trial period to ensure that they were a good fit, but at this point it seemed nothing more than a formality.

A Happy Family

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The trial period was a success and the three were able to finally become a family. After the formalities of adoption paperwork, they would now welcome their new pup into their home. As any pet owner knows this can be as exciting as welcoming a child into their home. The two were so excited about Sir Wiggleton that they shared it with anyone they could. The only problem was that others were watching, and the consequences could be dire.

The Smiling Pup

Image: Detroit Dog Rescue

It goes without saying that Sir Wiggleton, now known as Diggy, was extremely photogenic. So much so that he became an internet star alongside Dan. Known as the smiling dog, he became so popular that Good Morning America covered the story. But things were going to take a drastic turn and the happy family was soon to face turmoil.

The Storm Is Brewing

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The famous picture quickly made its way to the Waterford Township police department. The police had to act because of something in the picture. Dan had broken the law and it was all because of the rescue of Diggy. Dan had no idea until he heard a knock on his door.

Unwelcome Guests

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Answering the door, Dan was met with local police. They had questions about the photo and what they had found. Dan was, understandably, confused tat a photo would lead to the police showing up at his new home. Dan learned that he had officially broken the law and ramifications were coming. He was still lost.

The Gavel is Coming

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Without a clear understanding of what he had done, Dan was still in shock as he started to learn about the issues he had caused. It turned out that in 1990 a local ordinance banned pit bulls in the area. The ordinance was still in effect, and by owning a pit bull, Dan had broken that law. Pit bulls have a nasty reputation and even though strides have been made to clear their names, the law still stood. Dan wasn’t sure what he could do at this point.

The Ambassador

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When the cops approached Diggy, they were apprehensive to say the least. Pit bulls had a reputation of being very dangerous and unpredictable, so they didn’t know what to expect. Diggy, though, broke the mold when he was born. He jumped up to the police and started licking their faces. The exact reaction Dan expected from his friend. While the cops were unsure if the ordinance was outdated, they still had to give Dan an ultimatum that no one was pleased to enforce.

Dan’s Choice

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Ultimately, Dan was given two choices. Neither of which was a pleasant option. He was told he would need to surrender the dog, or face the consequences of breaking town ordinance. Dan gave a solid refusal to the choices. He obviously knew that the police could not change the rules because Diggy was different, and they left him with a deadline to choose. He had just days to make his decision.

The Easy Choice

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Dan, of course, refused to give up Diggy. On June 13, 2016 he violated the civil code and was fined $500. He knew something the police didn’t though, and he reached out to DDR’s Kristina Rinaldi for assistance. Without hesitation she backed him up. This was now a fight Dan thought he could win, and the outcome was going to be more explosive than he expected.

A Surprising Turn Of Events

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What Dan knew, which most others didn’t, is that Diggy was not a pit bull but an American Bulldog. Explaining this, and announcing that he was not going to give up the dog, cemented his citation, but that is when things went viral.

Using His Fame

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Dan, an up and coming musician with a following of his own and Diggy, the dog that captured the heart of all that saw him, took the fight online to get support. They drafted a petition to challenge the ordinance. Enough people got upset that it eventually reached the Michigan Humane Society, which led to a town hall meeting to discuss the two sides of the argument. While many of the town hall gatherers argued that tax dollars were funding an unjust law and many neighboring towns had already repealed those laws, there was still one smoking gun that could derail the momentum that Diggy had built.

Statistical Nightmares

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Statistic were used from parties in favor of keeping the ban in place. In 2016, of the 41 fatalities from dog attacks in the US, 22 were caused by pit bulls. The evidence looked like it was swinging in favor of keeping the ban in place. That is when all those involved, including Dan, made it clear that owners were at fault, not the dogs themselves. Still, the courts would not decide on legislation just yet.

The Waiting Game

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Diggy, Dan, and his girlfriend could do nothing but wait to see what the legislation would decide. If the ban was overturned, all would be good. If they decided to uphold the ban, Diggy would be removed from Dan’s home, Dan would lose his best pal, and all of the fighting would have been for nothing. There was nothing they could do though, the internet, the township, and people from all areas in the community had come out in support of overturning the ban. It came down to the 51st District Court to make the fateful decision.

The Difference in Breeds

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The hope, during the wait, was that the argument that owners were at fault for any type of attack would be the one to convince the court. Experts in animal behavior explained that most pit bull stories were sensationalized. They also pointed out that a chihuahua is more likely to bite than a pit bull. Again, the pit bulls temperament, they reminded, was dependent on the owners. But would that argument be strong enough?

The Verdict Arrives

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The 51st District Court dismissed the case to remove Diggy in September of 2016 and they made a change to the ordinance which made it clear that only vets could decide a dog’s breed. Pit bulls and American Bulldogs look similar to the untrained eye, and in a way, this was a victory. Though the ban was not lifted on pit bulls, it was much more clear who would make the call when it came the breed of a dog.

A Fitting, Yet Unfinished, End

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It is wonderful that Dan Tillery was able to keep a once sad, doomed dog and give it a happy home, but the battle may not be over yet. It was clear from the start of the town hall meetings that people wanted the ban overturned. While that may not be completed yet, Dan Tillery became an activist for animal rescue, alongside his good buddy, Diggy. Through Diggy’s story, a tide started to turn to rescuing as opposed to buying pets from shops. So in the end, even if his local town has yet to overturn the ban, countless animals are now in homes that may not have been before this whole thing started.