Saturday, July 14, 2012

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Alarm bells: Halifax signals all things Brindi are secret from now on

On June 26, the provincial judge turned over all control and rights to my dog Brindi to Halifax - the very city that has wanted to kill her since July 2008. That June, animal services officials had arbitrarily muzzled her, then told me about a law allowing them to seize and destroy her without any further ado if she was reported for anything, including not wearing her muzzle even accidentally. They seized her on July 24, 2008, after exactly that unfortunate thing happened four days earlier: she accidentally got loose for about 20 seconds, without causing injury to anybody.

There is no law in Halifax mandating seizure and destruction of a dog under a muzzle order merely for being off its property without the muzzle on. The supreme court later quashed that euthanasia order, but Halifax didn't return Brindi. And the city never held anybody accountable for those boldfaced lies, either.

It's no exaggeration to say that both of our lives were ruined that sad day. Many times over, in fact.

Last month, after prolonging Brindi's already lengthy stay in the pound by nearly four more months (on top of 18 months since the 2010 seizure), and after I put together a very strong case for Brindi's release, bolstered by the trainer's excellent testimony, Judge Buchan gave carte blanche to Halifax officials, saying they should do their own usual" assessment on her, and after August 1, they are free to decide for themselves what to do with her. (For some strange reason the prosecutor told the media the date was August 21 - not sure what that was about.)

During the trial, the prosecutor argued - as always - that there was only one option for Brindi: death. Somehow the judge ignored this consistent position, as well as the fact that Brindi has been assessed positively many times already. The most recent one was carried out on June 13 by behavioral consultant Susan Jordan; her report lay on the judge's desk.

Now the municipal prosecutor, 2009 law school grad Katherine Salsman, tells me that the results of Brindi's assessment will be in an "internal document". In other words, she will not share the results with me or the public. After two days puzzling over this, I came to the alarming realization that it must mean the city is planning to keep secret what they ultimately will do with/to Brindi a secret.  And that they must have decided to have her killed.

So the only reason for these officials to keep their decision a secret is if they plan to kill her. This would not be a surprise, as Halifax officials have wanted to do since 2008, and spent an inordinate amount of money trying. But it is extremely dismaying news, and everyone should take notice.
Why else keep the assessment secret? What would be the point, unless they planned to conceal what they do next? Otherwise, it would be obvious what the results were, based on that decision. If they put her up for adoption, we'll know the assessment turned out well. If they kill her, presumably the assessment did not turn out well.

But there's the rub: after a series of positive assessments, and the last one as recently as this June, how can any evaluation not turn out well? No matter what method is used - even the worst temperament test - Brindi is still going to score pretty well, even above average. I say this not only because I know and believe in my dog, but because despite long periods of isolation, and despite varying methods, Brindi's evaluations never came out remotely close to establishing aggression that warrants killing a dog. Even after she was locked up for 18 months, and saw other dogs up close only once (after the first five months -  the rest of the time she was probably terribly frustrated with having only their sounds and smells and no contact), Brindi still behaved remarkably well when tested around other dogs. In the last one, she scored very high on five out of six criteria; on the sixth, slightly less than high.

I did not only share the results of Brindi's evaluations with Halifax and the courts: I shared them with the public, including video footage from 2010. In fact, I agreed to share the results of her very first assessment in 2008 in advance, without knowing the outcome. I was quite confident, and was rewarded by results that were even better than I had hoped. Back then I had to get a court order for the trainer to see Brindi, because HRM refused to allow access otherwise. And not once did HRM ever have its own "expert" or even a staff member carry out an assessment.

Everyone knows Brindi's behavior with people has never been an issue.
Never fearful, skittish, around strangers, she has never attacked a person, even when she was kicked repeatedly, which happened on two occasions. (In 2010, HRM employee Tyson Simms and his wife Katie Simms, nee Pettipas, even kicked Brindi together as a couple. I can't believe anybody would risk kicking any dog, let alone one they later claim they were afraid of. I'd expect provocation like that to earn you a very sharp bite on the leg - yet Brindi did not deliver.) Sadly, HRM used both of these occasions as a reason to seize and destroy her.
In the trial, I cited a case of a dog that had viciously attacked killed another dog, in which the judge decided he deserved a reprieve because he did not retaliate against the human who kicked him. But apparently that case wasn't enough to convince Judge Buchan to let Brindi go, even though she never came close to causing fatal injuries to any dog. Nor was Susan Jordan's assessment enough. Then there was the vet's statement, based on over a dozen examinations in her clinic since 2010 and her university background in animal behavior plus 18 years of practice. Incredibly, the judge decided the vet didn't have the credentials to make an assessment and discounted that as well.

When Buchan chose to hand the whole decision over to HRM, she dealt an unprecedented blow to me, Brindi, the expertise of the vet and trainer, and the right to due process. I am still struggling to grasp how she came up with it. I only know that she gave herself five long weeks to devise this strange outcome. HRM thought it had until August 21 - that is, it thought she restricted them until then - but now that it's clear she said August 1, they may be scrambling to figure out their next move. I never know what they will come up with, because I cannot think the way they do: I only know it will be a surprise, a bad surprise that will defy the facts and all reason, just like the judge's decision.
SPCA staff celebrating Brindi's birthday with doggie cake, 2009.
Even though HRM never did its own official assessment before, it's clear that the SPCA volunteers who kept Brindi for nearly two years at the Metro Shelter know and like Brindi. You don't pose for a birthday picture with a dog you think is dangerous and should be put down. They even told me they loved her. To me, this photo says it even better: that HRM was wrong to seize Brindi and that even its own contractors don't agree with its stated goal.

I don't blame them. It's hard to conceal that Brindi's a sweetie pie, an affectionate girl and a true joy to have around. And the Homeward Bound Pound staff  - the pound that replaced the SPCA - know this too. They know the results of the June 13 assessment, as the city forced Susan Jordan to do it the pound. Now it seems as though the pound staff may be doing HRM's new assessment, because the judge did not specify that an expert should do it. She simply instructed HRM to do the "usual assessment", i.e., to treat Brindi like "other animals that come into its care" - like strays, for instance.

On one hand, that's a bit alarming, as Homeward Bound reportedly put down 30-odd stray dogs in its first year of operation using its own assessment methods.
But on the other hand, Brindi is not a stray that just came in: the staff already know her very well. They know she's not a candidate for "euphemasia". They know she is a pretty great dog who has been torn out of a home twice for no good reason, to be confined for long periods of time away from dogs and all but a few people, and they know that this did not make Brindi more aggressive. They know, because they kept her at the pound - a facility unsuited for more than a few days, as it lacks outdoor space other than a parking lot - for two whole months in spring 2010. And they know, because they've kept her at their subcontracted kennel for nearly two years.

The thing is, the fact the pound staff know and like Brindi may now present a bit of a problem, thanks to the judge's decision. After all, HRM pays their salaries through a $2.5 million contract that they don't want to lose. But after spending years trying to kill Brindi, it seems doubtful the city will accept anything but a negative assessment. So if they get the task, they may have to face a difficult choice between risking their jobs and doing harm to Brindi. I'd say they're in a bind.

However, secrecy about the process won't get the Homeward Bound pound staff - or HRM - out of a bind. It will only increase suspicion, and the suspicion will be justified. Because if they kill her, and they let it be known, there will be very big questions about the assessment. Yet while they may feel keeping it secret is necessary, it is also what I call a "giveaway".

I think it speaks volumes that HRM has never ever done an assessment of its own on Brindi in all this time. I pointed this out in the court (or for the court - there was no hearing!), arguing that the reason was that the city knew that no evaluator would ever support their unwaivering goal of killing her. "Not even remotely," to borrow the prosecutor's phrase. Certainly the expense of an assessment was not a concern, given how much this bizarre project to destroy my dog has cost the city already.

It's also telling that the city never responded to (or mentioned) the results of the other assessments. The prosecutor even told the judge in June not to pay attention to what the experts say, because "the record" was all she needed. In truth, the record is Brindi's best friend: having opportunities, but refraining from inflicting grievous bodily harm means a dog has "good bite inhibition" - i.e., she's proven to be reasonably safe, and certainly no threat to humans.
But the record as represented by Halifax is a very murky business. They sent the judge a selection of four and five year old reports about a few incidents for which they never laid charges, I guess because they were fairly harmless. The city didn't submit anything newer than 2008! Events have moved on since then, I dare say, including the intensive training done since. And also, of course, more year of isolation.

Evidently, Salsman didn't trust the record all that much, because she went on to give her own inexpert opinion on Brindi, claiming there was no option to killing her. According to her, Brindi had such "extensive training" and no more could be done. Really? A 2-month obedience course in 2007, and a month of training while in a kennel in 2010, and a few sessions after that, is not particularly extensive.  The rest of the time, the city has had possession of Brindi - for an extensive amount of time.

HRM took Brindi away again before the trainer had time to work with us on Brindi's territorial streak where it really counts -  on my own property. So one can hardly argue that everything was tried already. And I pointed out that HRM's had Brindi locked up for a pretty "extensive" length of time - nearly four years, as opposed to barely 15 months living in a home. The fact that she retained her basic obedience skills and then some  - I was amazed at how many commands she still knew - is to her credit as a dog. And let's not forget that there were no serious attacks resulting in injuries that required immediate medical attention. Not even remotely. So the prosecutor tried very hard, but the judge still declined to issue the order she wanted.
I suppose that since the judge did not require HRM to return to court with any results or decisions - she has totally washed her hands of the matter, contrary to the law - HRM does not think it has to share the results of whatever sort of assessment is done. It follows that they will be secretive about their plans for Brindi, simply because there's no reason for the first unless the second is true. But concealing thesse things only has the opposite effect of drawing attention, essentially revealing what they want concealed: what HRM really intends to do - the unthinkable, the very thing I have devoted my life and all my resources to preventing ever since that horrible day in 2008.

Again - any results that radically or even significantly contrast the previous ones will simply not be credible. Any decision other than giving Brindi a home - preferably her own home, of course, here in East Chezzetcook - but barring that, a good home, is simply unjustified. The judge must have known this, but rather than accept it and rule accordingly, she passed the buck to HRM. I dare not speculate any further as to why.
I don't have any idea if an assessment has been done already, or who will actually do it. But I am fairly certain that the new secrecy is part of a plan to do something I would rather not think about. It is really hard to imagine that HRM would be satisfied with putting Brindi into a home in the municipality - and hard to imagine anybody living here wanting to take on the burden of having the city watch over their shoulder, and whoever else would be gunning for her.

At the same time, I can't imagine animal services officials being content to let Brindi leave HRM and their control. There's some history on that with other cases. And the alternative of putting her in a so-called "sanctuary" the rest of her life would be just awful, in my opinion, not to mention illogical: why would you lock up a dog with other dogs, if you claim is so terribly dog-aggressive (which she is not, but that's what HRM wants people to think). The city would hand the people running the place her "history" according to them, and they'd be afraid to let her go near other dogs. My sweet, affectionate, and playful dog, a smart dog deemed highly trainable, a dog that was so gentle around babies and everyone, would end up being locked up away from both dogs and people for the rest of her life.
What can I do about it? I really do not know. I already have the disturbing - emotionally and mentally - task of filing an appeal against the judge's decision. I have to get a separate order to stop HRM from carrying out that decision.

I only hope that the public comes forward to demand transparency here, because now, it is quite simply a matter of life and death. There already is transparency, I supposed - so the real demand to make is that the city must not harm Brindi any further. If I knew they were not going to kill her, I might at least consider not making an appeal, as she will likely be locked up even longer.
But I can't trust what I don't know, and I certainly do not trust what little I do know.
FT88FUYDT572

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