Dog bites woman: LA billionaire philanthropist embroiled in alleged dog-park extortion case

Sandra Evling accused Dr Gary Michelson of negligence after his American XL Bully allegedly charged at and attacked her and her dog in August 2022

Mike Bedigan
Los Angeles
Wednesday 17 April 2024 23:07 BST
Alleged incident took place at Veteran’s Barrington Park in Los Angeles, California
Alleged incident took place at Veteran’s Barrington Park in Los Angeles, California (

A Los Angeles billionaire philanthropist has become embroiled in a bitter court case – which he alleges involves an extortion plot – stemming from a 2022 incident at a dog park, during which his pet bit an interior designer.

Sandra Evling accused Dr Gary Michelson and his wife of negligence after their AmericanXL Bully, Blue, allegedly charged at and attacked her and her dog on 9 August.

Ms Evling claimed that she suffered severe injuries during the incident as she attempted to protect her pet and that the Michelsons knew their dog was “aggressive”, yet allowed him to run around without a leash.

Despite these claims, it was Mr Michelson, 75, who filed a lawsuit first in May 2023, in which he alleged that Ms Evling had attempted to blackmail him for $85,000 and threatened to have Blue put down.

Mr Michelson is a retired orthopaedic spinal surgeon and inventor of medical technologies, holding some 340 patents for orthopaedic and spinal surgery instruments. He became a billionaire in 2005 when he reached a $1.35bn settlement with medical device giant Medtronic, according to Forbes

The pair had met in Gold’s Gym, in Venice, California, after Ms Evling had requested a meeting, according to the suit, obtained by The Independent.

During the meeting, Ms Evling allegedly threatened to file a police report to have “[Mr Michelson] arrested and have Blue confiscated; file a complaint with animal control to have Blue killed [and] do everything possible to have Blue destroyed.”

She also allegedly threatened to file a complaint with the gym to have Mr Michelson expelled from it and recruit people from the dog park to file a class action lawsuit against him.

Mr Michelson was to pay her $85,000, an amount he could “easily afford” in exchange for her silence, the lawsuit stated. He later requested that Ms Evling put her demands in writing, which she did, the lawsuit stated.

Mr Michelson was “completely distraught by the threats of Defendant with thoughts of, among others, losing Blue, having Blue euthanized, getting arrested, and suffering public humiliation stemming from the arrest and lawsuit.”

The complaint demanded damages of $250,000, stating that Ms Evling “acted with oppression, fraud, and malice and in conscious disregard of the rights of Plaintiff.”

As a philanthropist, Mr Michelson has set up multiple foundations including for animal welfare. The Michelson Found Animals (MFA) has “channeled more than $100 million into a broad range of projects including research and advocacy” according to the organisation’s website.

MFA also funds and operates Michelson Prizes and Grants in Reproductive Biology, which is a $50 million research grant commitment and $25 million prize offering for the development of non-surgical sterilization for cats and dogs.

Two months after his civil extortion lawsuit was filed, Ms Evling hit back with her own limited civil case. The complaint, filed in July 2023, said that Blue “charged… and attacked and bit Plaintiff while she was protecting her dog. As a result, Plaintiff suffered severe injuries.”

It added that the Michelson dog “had a propensity to run toward people and other animals and aggressively come into contact with them, attack them, and bite them against their will,” and that it was believed that Blue had been involved in several similar incidents previously.

“Defendants owed a duty to exercise reasonable care to Plaintiff. Here, Defendants breached their duty to Plaintiff, and as a result, Plaintiff was attacked and bitten by the subject dog and suffered severe injuries,” the suit stated.

The lawsuit requested both punitive and compensatory damages but did not specify an amount.

Despite her reported injuries, medical records reviewed by the Los Angeles Times, when Ms Evling sought treatment that evening an X-ray found no fractures or vascular injuries in her hand. She was given a tetanus shot and prescribed antibiotics, the Times reported.

Mr Michelson later told the outlet that the records were not evidence of dog bites and that he had regularly checked up on Ms Evling in the days after the incident, even setting up a session at his house with his longtime friend – celebrity dog trainer Cesar Millan.

A jury trial for Mr Michelson’s civil extortion suit and Ms Evling’s limited civil has been scheduled for 15 July 2025.

The Independent has reached out to both Mr Michelson and Ms Evling for comment on the incident and subsequent lawsuits.

According to the Times, neither visits the dog park any more.

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