Friday, August 15, 2008

Hoping and (sort of) coping

It's been a harrowing two days within the three weeks that have gone by since Brindi was taken away.

August: vacations (among the various lawyers and parties) are threatening to prolong this ordeal. Unfortunately, have not been able to meet with all the parties involved.
In an attempt to ease the situation, and come to an earlier resolution if at all possible, we are proposing that Brindi be moved to another location, preferably a foster home. A good friend with plenty of experience as an owner and foster mom has made her home available. And, as mentioned, we would like official consent to have Silvia Jay see and assess Brindi at the shelter and elsewhere, as soon as possible.

On Wednesday, I tried to make my case in person to Andrea Macdonald, the manager of Animal Services. I drove to the Animal Services management at Macintosh and Bayne. I am not certain why the address is unpublished. (I could not help referring to it as their "secret hideout".)

It was close to four pm by the time I made it across the McKay bridge and found the service road next to the link to Robie Street. I drove past the two pre-fab buildings, one of which is marked with a sign for "Building Management Services" or something like that. I turned around and parked out front.

The door had an electric lock, but a woman passing by let me in. I explained that I did not have an appointment, but had phoned a few times, which was true. After standing a minute or two in the lobby, I was permitted to wait in a conference room. Andrea and supervisor Lori Scolero, who had signed the death warrant (and who was reportedly out all week), appeared a few minutes later. They remained standing, insisting they could not talk because the entire matter was in the hands of the lawyers. I had brought along a few new letters, with Silvia Jay's CV, photographs, and petitions. They declined to review them but I was able to leave a few things with them when I left. I had planned to focus on the requests at hand, but, perhaps because of their unwillingness to sit, I wound up putting a number of points forward.

Above all, I tried to persuade Andrea and Lori that their hands are not tied. The court case does not prohibit them from continuing their duties and using their discretion in this matter. (I confirmed this later with my lawyer, in fact.) In other words, they may be advised to consult the lawyer before acting, but they retain their authority to make decisions. My goal was to convince them to grant permission for Silvia to see Brindi. I also tried to get across the idea that resolving the matter quickly is really in everyone's interest - Brindi's above all. But it is also in the taxpayers' interest to avoid a costly, lengthy court case, and as public servants, this should be their concern. 

In the end, what I heard told me they are convinced of a few points that puzzle me: that there was a serious injury, and that the law was followed, and, in their view, it mandates euthanization as the penalty for a muzzle order violation, even if unintentional and momentary. I was especially surprised by the first, as the police files my lawyer received in disclosure do not contain documentation of what could be reasonably considered a serious injury. 

On the second point, there seems to be confusion. The text of the law brings up destroying a dog only once (it does not use the word "euthanization"). This appears as one of four options that an animal control officer may take:

(2) Where an Animal Control Officer has reason to believe that a dog has attacked a
person or another animal, and the owner of the dog has been identified, the Animal
Control Officer may do any one or combination of the following enforcement actions:
(a) issue the owner a notice to muzzle the dog;
(b) issue the owner a notice to microchip the dog;
(c) classify the dog as a ‘dangerous dog’ in the municipal registry; or
(d) destroy the dog without permitting the owner to claim it and issue the owner a
notice informing that the dog has been destroyed.

Further down, there is only one section that refers to instances where an owner fails to comply with the muzzle order:

(4) Where an owner has been served with a notice pursuant to clause (a) or (b) of
subsection (2), the failure of the owner to comply with any notice shall be an offence
under this By-Law.
(5) Any owner of a dog who fails to comply with subsection (3) shall be guilty of an
offence under this By-Law.

Beyond defining this instance as an offence, I find no mention of a prescribed penalty.

In any case, while we spoke, I pointed out what I feel is a significant discrepancy between the unfolding of the euthanization order for Brindi, and the procedure outlined on their webpage (see REVIEW ENFORCEMENT PROCEDURES) - in which an investigation is to be conducted after a dog is seized, not before, and that a decision to euthanize is to be made on the basis of
 a post-seizure investigation. And in the materials we received, there was not much evidence of any investigation other than paperwork that repeated the accounts of incidents. No other members of the community were asked for input - something that my mail carrier, Marina Findlay, wonders about. People like her, who move through the neighborhood day in and day out, have a very good sense of which dogs are threats to public safety. However, the department confines its interest to the details of reported incidents largely as they were initially reported. No qualified experts are consulted; the law does not specifically require this.

Although the law, in its open-ended description of procedure (or lack thereof), certainly grants the necessary latitude to do so, the department does not appear willing to take into
 consideration the circumstances of these incidents, or mitigating factors, such as the location and nature of the incidents (at the property line; no injury requiring extensive medical treatment). Such consideration is customarily given in other areas of the law, from parking tickets to felonies. So it is hard to comprehend what amounts to a zero-tolerance policy for a dog that the law does not even regard as a sentient being. In fact, the law views dogs as property, yet elsewhere, no law requires a vehicle to be destroyed as a result of an accident. The driver would be penalized. 

In any case, I had the impression I was up against an immovable force - yet again. I suppose people who know me will say this is nothing new in my life. Only this time, another life is at stake. Lori was kind enough to photocopy a few signed petitions, and as I left the pre-fab building, I tried to frame the situation as an opportunity for Animal Services and the city to, in refraining from destroying my Brindi, act to reform the procedures and the laws now. Again, and perhaps understandably, Lori was focused primarily on the law, which she firmly believes dictates this drastic measure; "if you guys can change it..." they will enforce it, in other words. 

But I must ask again: in addition to the question about procedure, exactly where in By-Law A300 does it actually state that euthanization is the remedy/penalty for an offence involving a muzzle order? Or was it their choice? If so - why?? Why impose the maximum penalty upon a dog whose offences are minimal? 
Afterwards, well, the word distraught doesn't begin to describe how I felt. I sat in the parking lot for a while, called a friend, drove down the highway (sobbing, not afraid to say) to Chapters, 
sat in that parking lot, and sobbed some more. I could not drive home. I could hardly drive at all. My friend didn't stay long, didn't get anything at Starbucks; saying only, "you're doing everything you can" - not very reassuring after my recent encounter - and "you should make sure you eat and sleep", he went off to have dinner with his daughter. I hadn't eaten all day. I couldn't function. I called another friend, talked until I could get myself moving again.

Then I found myself driving over to Burnside, where Brindi is being kept at the SPCA. It was around 7 pm by this time. I didn't try to talk to anybody. I just wanted to be there. Not many windows to see, I wondered if the dogs in the pound get any daylight or sunlight. 
One of the officers who had seized Brindi drove up in his truck. I don't think he saw me. He was carrying a container, probably holding a cat. The truck looked like the same one they used to take Brindi away. 

Two sweet old dogs were hanging out in the pens outside. One was a mix with some staffordshire, thin, a male. The other was an amiable mutt, friendly, but like
 the other, stayed pretty quiet after greeting me solemnly. They moved unnaturally slow, as if they were really, really tired; it was weird. 

Then, in the far distance, I could just about make out another dog lying down in a pen, its back to me. Too dark in the shadow to see a color or markings.

Was it Brindi?? Later, I enlarged the image,
bracing myself.  There is that profile, widened shoulders, flopping ears.

Oh God, what if it was her?? I was afraid to call out - if it was her, I couldn't bear it; there was no way to get close to greet and touch her. I didn't want to do anything to cause trouble; who knows, it could work against me later. 

Did I miss my chance???

I wandered back to the front of the building, and ended up chatting for a few minutes with the shelter manager, Diana, who had spotted me and came to the door. She said Brindi was doing all right. We talked a bit about the situation. I did not want to cause any problem, I just needed to be there for a time. 

Every day I fight the urge to drive over there. It's only 20, 25 minutes, I think.

On Friday, Jon and I built an enclosure around the front ramp. It may look odd, but it is secure, and fully enclosed, so that my dog cannot go past it unless I open a little gate we fashioned. 

So now the front and back entries are secured. No escaping.