Sunday, August 3, 2008

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They want to kill my dog.

They really do. And it makes no sense to me.

Brindi is a five year old shepherd-lab mix. I adopted her from a shelter about a year ago. Until recently, she lived quite happily with me and my two cats, Amelia and Rudy. Shortly before 9 pm on July 24, 2008, animal control officers from the city of Halifax appeared at my door. They entered without a word, then showed me a court order to seize Brindi for euthanization. They took her to the city pound and scheduled her to be killed on August 7.

Yet Brindi has never bitten a human being or seriously injured another dog.
She is gentle and sweet with children and adults, and gets along well with most dogs she meets. She quickly learned to get along with my two cats. She loves to run on the beach, roll around in grassy fields, and go sledding on her back in winter. She goes with me everywhere, waiting patiently in my car when I do errands. Brindi saved my life: after months of depression, she got me up and out each morning, walking and playing. I lost twenty pounds without dieting. More importantly: she loves me, and I love her. I simply cannot rest until she is back.

What went wrong?

While I generally am able to keep Brindi under my control, on certain occasions, resulting from unfortunate coincidences, she suddenly went after other dogs. She grabbed them by the scruff of the neck and just held. I was able to separate them quickly, and none of the dogs required extensive medical treatments. The first was apparently reported not because of the other dog’s condition – the owner declined my offer to pay for a vet - but out of concern that “it might have been a child”. The police issued me a warning and a further one for not having a municipal licence, which I made sure to obtain immediately. The second incident, reported last April, resulted in a minor injury and would have normally resulted in a fine, possibly an order to build a fence . Instead, they issued Brindi, who rarely ever licks anybody, let alone threatens them, with a permanent muzzle order, requiring strict compliance, even on my own property.

Why was this done? 
Records show that the animal control officer on the case brought the muzzle order into play when the other owner expressed concern for my costs, since I had already offered to pay for her $150 visit to the vet (the cost of a general exam for a new patient, and precautionary antibiotics for small puncture wounds). I do not know if she was cognizant that a muzzle order would effectively hold a death warrant over my dog's head. Once in place, rigid local by-laws dictate euthanization after any further violation, regardless of mitigating or extenuating circumstances - even if she was seen without the muzzle on for a moment. 

When the same officer issued me the muzzle order, he claimed it was his boss's response to a number of phone calls demanding Brindi be put down, suggesting that this may be because of my outsider status. He swore he had nothing to do with it. When I begged him to let me pay a fine and build a fence instead, he said the muzzle order was permanent and could not be appealed. Suddenly, Brindi was no longer a dog with a challenging dominance problem: she was a threat to public safety.

In a community where a wide range of dog behavior is tolerated, this heavyhanded action was baffling. To avoid another incident, I began agility training with Brindi in April, to improve her recall, and I planned to build a fence as soon as it was physically possible. This summer, I began work on my heritage home, a major renovation to add a new foundation for a basement and garage. The contractor failed to meet a completion date of August 1 - not even close - and until I can get things going again, the house remains lifted on steel beams, surrounded by rocky piles of dirt.

On July 20, Brindi slipped out my patio door before I could finish muzzling and leashing her. We both nearly fell off the ramp - would have been impaled on the rebars sticking up from the footings, about ten feet down! The workers put up a railing only on one side of the ramp and it's quite a slope, plus the cord was further out. She startled me without warning, and I lost my grip. Luckily I managed not to fall. I ran after her, calling, over and through huge piles of rocks and dirt on my property. A man I never saw before was walking two dogs in front of my house. One was little, carried in his hands, the other was black, like a lab. I saw Brindi circle and then the man kicking at her head. I begged him not to kick her because it really looked like he was making contact. I think she must have been ducking though and she never snapped at him, nor did she bite his dog; seconds later a passing driver honked and she ran across the street, then back to my house, where she parked herself right in front of the door. The driver got out of his car - smiled at me - and got back in and left. The man with the dogs, whom I did not know, scolded me to tie up my dog and left before I could finish a sentence, let alone apologize or see how his dog was. He later said that he hadn't thought to call Animal Control until he heard about earlier incidents. Probably the rumor going around, that Brindi tore open a dog's stomach, which a friend's son heard on the school bus, or something equally false. In any event, none of my friends and neighbors knew who he was; even my mail carrier didn't recognize the description and she knows everybody. I had no idea he even called animal control. The seizure order and a euthanization order were issued four days later. This is incredible. Before this, not even a fine, and now? I thought they had to do an investigation, and they didn't tell me about the call, let alone ask me for a statement. Aren't they supposed to do this?? They wouldn't even tell me what they were doing here until they got inside my house, then they said "You know why we're here, right?" NO. 

Brindi is now in the SPCA-run city pound. Instead of hour-long strolls in the park, she is only walked for five minutes, three times a day. I am not permitted to see her. Unless I can manage to win an expensive court case against the city, I will never see Brindi again!

What can be done?
I am desperate. Pitted against the fears and speculation of a relative few is a year’s worth of experience in which Brindi proved herself in public: frequent attendance at local ballgames and charity events with thousands of guests, visits to children and elderly neighbors, and beach outings with friends and their dogs. She even comes with me to the local wildlife rehab center, and to downtown Halifax for waterfront strolls.

Wanting to insure that Brindi fits into my little household and is a good member of the community, I spent many hours training and socializing her. We often visit a friend who owns a cute and feisty shitzu, Teddy. Brindi calmly tolerates his bluster while I chat with his owner. Then I walk the two dogs together for a spell, and Brindi behaves beautifully. It was a shock when I first witnessed her dominant streak, because it is so out of character, and we had just successfully finished obedience classes. I took heart in the knowledge that I would soon have a fence and be able to train her further. Too late!

For me, the excruciating pain of separation is compounded by horror and disbelief that in a case where no serious harm was inflicted, the city will actually kill a dog rather than punish me, her human owner and the responsible party. As a single woman, public safety is certainly important to me. I do not want people to worry about walking by my house. I have offered to install a fence right away, and work with a special trainer to correct her behavior. I will pay whatever fines and boarding costs are imposed. Animal Services has not responded to my offer, and the city's lawyer declined my lawyer’s proposal to send Brindi to stay at an out of town facility until her behavior can be improved. Instead, Halifax appears determined to kill my dog. 

A Frightening Precedent 
How unthinkable is it that a dog like Brindi could be killed? I have been working non-stop for ten days and nights, making lists, calling and emailing friends, and  working with my municipal councilor and several lawyers – yet there is still no end in sight. 

The lawyer I engaged has saved many dogs from euthanization, but incredibly, he lost a case last year over a dog that never bit a human. In a single incident with a greyhound, the struggle badly tore and bruised its thin skin. A judge decided the dog was dangerous, and the owner chose not to appeal. The city put the dog down. No one I know heard about this, nor are they fully aware of the policy behind it.


From the minute they drove the big white truck away with Brindi sitting quietly in a locked metal cage, I began looking for help everywhere and anywhere - that is, after I finished screaming long and hard, enough to damage my vocal chords. For the last ten days, have been phoning, emailing, and visiting people, soliciting letters of support, and basically going crazy. 

While my lawyer admonishes that there is no guarantee it will help save Brindi, I am very grateful for the response so far:
  • Brindi's trainer wrote that while her behavior can be dangerous, there is no correlation between dogs biting dogs and dogs biting humans. 
  • Brindi's vet, whose lab puppy was Brindi's classmate in her obedience course, noted that aggression is not flagged in her medical file. 
  • Letters to animal services from the owner of the kennel where Brindi stayed for ten days last January, and from her beloved groomer, do not view Brindi as aggressive or dangerous. On the contrary: months ago, the groomer loves her so much, she offered to dog-sit her for free while I shop. The kennel owner says she is welcome any time. 
  • Our woman mail carrier, definitely not a doglover, wrote she is sure Brindi would never bite her - she's been at my door many times, even came inside without Brindi ever taking notice (like I said, she's a terrible watchdog!).
  • About a dozen other folks, many of them dogowners, have written in support, and at least another dozen phoned animal services supervisor Lori Scolaro who issued the “humane” euthanasia order for my dog.
  • Another thirty people have given their names in support of Brindi, including members of local "oldtimer" baseball teams. They made Brindi welcome at postgame celebrations in their clubhouse.
Last night I learned that a neighbor I don't even know started a petition to save Brindi. The kids next door promised to write their own letters as well. They understood that Brindi’s problem may stem from her early days running with other dogs on a native reserve. That is where she was abandoned, tied to a stoop, in a cardboard box in the rain: she was using her body to shield her newborn puppies inside. 

After Brindi and her puppies were found, they received good care at a nearby shelter. The puppies were soon adopted, but Brindi waited a total of two years before she could re-emerge. She was in excellent health and eager to please. Every day, she showers me with affection and love. She takes great joy in every moment, and is very patient and trusting of me. When I think of this, I just cannot bear that she is caged in a hot, smelly pound instead of lying by my side!!

This morning, I woke again after only three hours of sleep, body stiff from days of panic. I can't walk anywhere without her. My brain cannot adjust to this bizarre reality. I will never be able to forgive myself if I fail to save her.