Sunday, August 31, 2008

Guest Post: Jon Stone on the sudden death of Ducky, a 17-year old family cat

I am writing this in an email so you may post it to your blog as another example of what is so desperately wrong with the animal control by-law and the incompetence of those who are enforcing the law. Jean would love to talk to you. 

A long time resident of North Dartmouth, Jean Hanlon is yet another victim of the reckless enforcement actions of HRM's animal control officers and the inhumane law which they claim to be dutifully applying.

Recently Jean had her elderly cat to the vet for treatment of an ear infection. After receiving treatment and a prescription for medication, Jean returned home with her cat, fully confident that the animal would recover. She was called away to take care of some other business for a few hours. When she returned home, she could find no trace of the cat. She and her husband Paul hunted high and low. When she asked her neighbour about the cat, he had said he had not seen it which later turned out to be a lie.

Finally they called animal control and found out that they had received a complaint from someone in the neighbourhood and had taken a cat into custody. (if only other by-laws would be so vigourously enforced!) They took the cat to the pound - again this is the facility operated by the heretical NS SPCA - where the cat had been euthanized virtually immediately. The most troubling and frightening fact here is that again, animal control officers seem to carry the power of God because even though the animal control law states that seized animals must be kept for three days before being euthanized or otherwise adopted, animal control officers can waive that "right" for the animals and order immediate euthanasia as was the case with Jean's cat. HAD THEY FOLLOWED THE RULES WHICH THEY LOVE TO QUOTE LIKE MINDLESS AUTOMATONS JEAN'S CAT WOULD HAVE BEEN SAVED!

They say they believed that the cat was in bad shape. The only problem with the poor animal was that it was recovering from an ear infection and was of course a little wobbly. The animal control officer, as they are apparently inclined to do in their so-called investigations, embellished his report saying that the cat had been dragging its hind quarters. When pressed, he actually admitted that he exaggerated. So why is he still carrying a badge? Where is the recourse for this sort of incompetence?

Jean went to the animal impoundment centre in Burnside after finding out her cat had been euthanized without ANY serious investigation OF ANY KIND done by animal control. After beating against the locked door, they finally let her in. According to Jean the vet who administered the euthanasia was absolutely enraged at having been misled by animal control.

Needless to say, Jean has been devastated by this tragedy. Especially when her neighbour denied to the animal control officer that he knew the cat and signed a paper to that effect. As with most of the results of this kangaroo court animal justice, lives of people who love and cherish their pets are being devastated because of the callous, heartless and mindless actions of animal control officers.

What adds the ultimate insult to this is that this is all happpening under the nose of the NS SPCA which should be waving the flag of righteous indignation for HRM to immediately cease and desist in the poor enforcement of this even poorer by law. By their silence and the fact this takes place on their own premises the organization which bills itself as the protector of animals is in fact condoning these blatant acts of inhumanity on animals such as Brindi and Jean Hanlon's cat and no doubt countless other similar cases.

How many Brindis have their been as a result of this bylaw? How many cases like Jean Hanlon's cat have there been? How many more broken hearts will there be before some common sense and supportable legal principles win out over the heartless bureaucracy?



I received the following news today:

A cat belonging to a Dartmouth family was seized and put down at the Burnside Emergency Animal Clinic within less than two hours after neighbors reported it as a stray, claiming it was “dragging its hind legs.”

Ducky, a 17-year old Angora cat belonging to Paul and Jean Hanlon of Fernhill Drive, went missing on the evening of August 16. Her frantic owners searched in vain with the help of a neighbor. Finally at around 10 pm they called HRM Animal Control, who informed them one of their officers had taken it into custody a few hours earlier. The officer, acting on a call from an elderly couple in the neighborhood about a cat seen on a lawn, mistakenly concluded Ducky was in bad shape.

On learning the news, Jean Hanlon immediately drove to the Burnside clinic and, as she says “went berserk”: “I banged on the door and said, ‘You killed my cat! Let me in!’” A vet came out and explained to Hanlon she had euthanized Ducky after receiving an order from Animal Control. This happened probably sometime between 8 and 9 pm, before the owners were able to track it down. Explanations vary as to why the procedure was done so quickly, nor is it clear why Ducky was taken to the clinic rather than to the SPCA. Ducky was being treated with antibiotics for an ear infection, but was otherwise in good health, according to the family vet. The family is devastated by the sudden loss of a well-cared for, longtime companion. The vet told Hanlon she felt misled by animal control, who in turn claimed they did not know.

Animal Services has claimed it is not allowed to inform pet owners of the names of callers who report their animals. So its officer, who did not actually see the cat dragging its hindlegs, did not attempt to contact the owners. Nor did he search for someone to corroborate the information filled out on an “Animal Relinquishment Form” by Hanlon’s next-door neighbor. To date Jean Hanlon has not been sent a copy of this form, which includes a 72-hour waiver of the time required to hold an animal before euthanization. On it, the officer told her, the neighbor indicated that the cat was a stray, which Hanlon finds odd, as he had clearly known what her cat looks like. Also, since in the past, he had delivered strays to her door, she does not understand why he chose to call police this time.

My friend Jon Stone, who made me aware of Ducky's fate, wonders whether the actual rules were really followed, as Animal Services claims is the case. 

He asks, "How many Brindis have there been as a result of this bylaw? How many cases like Jean Hanlon's cat have there been? How many more broken hearts will there be, before some common sense and supportable legal principles win out over a heartless bureaucracy?"

My answer: TOO MANY. Killing innocent animals is absolutely unacceptable, regardless of how many or how few. 

Therefore, until enforcement procedures are reviewed and the law is improved–and this is not likely to happen until after the October election–I propose an immediate indefinite moratorium on all euthanization orders in HRM.  

I call upon all HRM vets to refuse to carry out an HRM order to euthanize an animal unless and until they are absolutely convinced it is justified by the animal's condition, i.e., visible signs of agony or a severe injury from which it will not recover.

Please join me in making this demand by contacting your elected officials and anyone else who will listen!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The numbers are growing.... and time is ticking.

Well, it seems there are well over a thousand good people out there who have taken the time to actually read and sign a petition in favor of releasing my precious dog. Right now, the 500-mark is about to be broken on Care2, and the ipetition site, older, is at 657 names. Plus well over 100 names on local petitions, hoping to get at least 300.

How is it possible in this day and age that despite SO MUCH effort and so MANY people, I have yet to rescue my dog from the pound and certain death, but getting a suspected criminal, even a violent one, released from police custody is often a matter of mere hours? The Enron execs whiled away three years before they were even put on trial, free to come and go anywhere they pleased, evidently. The vice president of America shot somebody in the face and there was no talk of charges...

I am so fearful of what condition Brindi is in, above all, emotionally. I know how much time it took for her to forgive me for giving her up for ten-day stay at a nice kennel, namely, seven full days before she would look me in the eye, and longer before I felt she really trusted me again. This time around, it's anybody's guess. I cannot bear it. But that is getting ahead of myself, I suppose. And even after all these weeks, I still can't believe she is there at all.

Someone who knows us both well and has little reason to trust the SPCA nevertheless believes that by now they must be giving her lots of attention, maybe even letting her roam the office. I would so like to believe this. I would feel a lot better. But I can't be sure it, or of anything, only that it has been OVER FIVE WEEKS and that she is not living the life she should be living, not by a long shot. Then again, so many animals aren't, dogs among them. If day after day, year after year, a maker of expensive dog food could actually lock dogs into 2 x 3 metal cages, some with slats instead of floors and wood planks instead of beds, and subject them to the torture of having solid chunks of muscle removed from their flanks, and worse, anything is possible.

How many of us truly believe humans are the superior species? Or is it all down to the arbitrary evolutionarily granted privilege of having a thumb and walking upright??

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A "prayer for relief"

No time for despair. Not with so many, many kind offers of help coming my way, from near and far - even as far away as Fresno! Also, so many people from unlikely places are signing the petitions and commenting on the senselessness of the situation. 

And a special group of good souls are out there every day fighting for Brindi, graciously keeping me going, like she used to, just like angels. Brindi's Angels. So that's what they will be called from now on. 

Thank you to each and all. With you, I don't feel quite so alone in this nightmare. May your efforts succeed with the greatest possible haste.

A "prayer for relief" is a legal term meaning, to quote a legal expert, "that bit at the end of your statement of claim where you tell the court what it is you want it to do for you". What do I want? Simple: I want my dog back. Please!

I miss Brindi terribly and need her by my side. I fully intend to return her to it. She is so much more than "just a dog". 

No dog on earth is ever "just" a dog. May anyone who says this about their own dog have their wounded hearts opened to the constant source of love, joy, and companionship right by their side. For those who do not own dogs, may they learn to recognize, respect, and help protect them as valuable assets to society.  Then, maybe every last shelter could empty out and close down. And the same, of course, goes for cats, and all pets. 

I was sad to learn that Susan Ito, my friend and lifelong inspiration even when we are out of touch, is mourning her Scooter, a sweet, brave little dog somebody once threw away. It seems he was a healing force in many lives, despite his own physical pain. May he be forever blessed, and find the highest and best of spirits at his side.


If you can start the day without caffeine, 
If you can get going without pep pills, 
If you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains, 
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles, 
If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it, 
If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time, 
If you can overlook it when those you love take it out on you when, 
through no fault of yours, something goes wrong, 
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment, 
If you can ignore a friend's limited education and never correct him, 
If you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend, 
If you can face the world without lies and deceit, 
If you can conquer tension without medical help, 
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs, 
If you can say honestly that deep in your heart you have no prejudice 
against creed, color, religion or politics, 
Then, my friend, you are almost as good as your dog.

(Author unknown, at least to me.)


He is my other eyes that can see above the clouds; 
my other ears that hear above the winds. 
He is the part of me that can reach out into the sea. 
He has told me a thousand times over that I am his reason for being: 
by the way he rests against my leg; 
by the way he thumps his tail at my smallest smile; 
by the way he shows his hurt when I leave without taking him. 
(I think it makes him sick with worry when he is not along to care for me.) 
When I am wrong, he is delighted to forgive. 
When I am angry, he clowns to make me smile. 
When I am happy, he is joy unbounded. 
When I am a fool, he ignores it. 
When I succeed, he brags. 
Without him, I am only another man. 
With him, I am all-powerful. 
He is loyalty itself. 
He has taught me the meaning of devotion. 
With him, I know a secret comfort and a private peace. 
He has brought me understanding where before I was ignorant. 
His head on my knee can heal my human hurts. 
His presence by my side is protection against my fears 
of dark and unknown things. 
He has promised to wait for me... whenever... wherever - in case I need him. 
And I expect I will - as I always have. 

He is just my dog. 

-Gene Hill 
with thanks to Jenn Richardson

Friday, August 22, 2008


Well, so far, no response from the SPCA, the media, or anyone else. It's a day everybody is taking off for the final week of August. 

In sunny Dartmouth, after an appointment I ventured over to the pound to drop off a package of nice frozen marrow bones for Brindi, her favorite treat in the world. I invited the shelter manager to share them with other dogs in the pound, if there was any concern about them raising a ruckus, as I was told on an earlier occasion when they refused the chicken hearts I brought for her.

As we chatted, and I really hate to write this because I will gasp again, I learned that for the past four weeks of her incarceration, Brindi has not been allowed to spend time in the outdoor pens, where I photographed the other dogs earlier. This means she has only been on short walks, totally roughly 15 minutes a day, according to animal control officers. 

Why?? Because they were not sure she had all her vaccinations.  

How did they not know?? Brindi has a valid HRM tag, which serves as proof of vaccinations. 

If they didn't know that, why did they not ask me? So far I have been up to the SCPA four or five times. And my name is in the phone book. 

It so happens that Brindi is due for her shots, as of the end of July. So the manager said the SPCA can provide this service if I agree, which I did, gladly. This, I was told, will allow her to get some fresh air, if not much exercise (see photos below of the pens). 

Okay. Keep calm... Brindi's had what amounts to a month of mere pee breaks, short walks (15 minutes daily total according to an animal control officer, but I hope not). And if I hadn't been at the SCPA today, that's all she'd still be getting. Pee breaks. My beautiful, healthy, smart, loving dog, that I walked and walked so she could lose 10 pounds the first month, and walked some more until I lost 20 pounds in seven. MY amazing dog, who so treasures her daily runs through the high grasses and dunes, ecstatic over each smell and taste of the great outdoors.

Somebody tell me, how do I digest this news after a month of eating my insides out? Do I scream now, or later? My vocal chords are not quite healed yet, but so what: I want to scream, scream, scream, scream, scream, scream, scream, scream, scream, SCREAM!!!!! 
A month of hell, day after day of urgent calls, emails, big bucks spent, dozens of tips for sure-fire help dashed to pieces, and I've gotten nowhere at all. Abso§%)/%&Q?lutely nowhere. My lawyer is hiking in Chile. Friends are tiring of the topic, understandably. Family incommunicado at a cottage. My neck and back are sore, legs ache, house filthier than ever and further than ever from completion, tons of paperwork to do. Winter is coming, everybody says, what about the house? 

I was fantasizing that maybe, just maybe, enough city council members would find it within their hearts to vote to suspend A300 retroactively to release Brindi, the same way they suspended anti-noise by-laws for a concert. Then they can set about fixing the law. Not likely, I guess, especially after reading some of the minutes of a Regional Council meeting on the animal control by-law, Dave Rodenhiser's June 21, 2007 column in the Chronicle Herald. 

I truly wonder: what is it going to take? There HAS to be some way to get her out before another day goes by, another 30, 40, 50! Please, there just has to be a way! This is CANADA, isn't it? No death penalty, right? Wrong.
While the online petition (545 names) and Facebook group (261) have garnered real support around the globe, here at home, the story has not gone national. Wiser heads tell me it is not likely to, though it would help.
What gets a nation's attention away from the Olympics...? I go into brainstorming/design mode: throw out the wildest and craziest ideas you can think of, don't judge, toss them around until something gels. (Sometimes it actually works.) What if I camp out in the parking lot of the SPCA and howled into a loudspeaker all night? Hold candlelight vigils and burn a copy of the by-law in front of Animal Services? Hand out poop bags and doggie bandanas stamped with "FREE BRINDI"? Pretend to kidnap the mayor's dog (have a stand-in pooch play the part - who'll know the difference?) and demand Brindi as ransom? Hold a doggie march, a doggie concert with a cat chorus? 

While I rack my brain, others are working like mad: one woman is determined to get it on Ellen Degeneres or Oprah. Others wrote to Cesar Millan. Another one is giving every Halifax official she can get to a piece of her mind. Goodhearted people who love dogs are calling and writing the SPCA, Animal Services officials, the media, the police. It's awesome!!! 

Is it getting results? Not quite

What will it take? 

Meanwhile, again and again I have to come back to reality: they actually took my DOG, and they actually want to put her down. No wonder I can't come up with any ideas. Stress, fear, pain, exhaustion - all big creativity killers. 

May I somehow find a way through them, just this once!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

To the SPCA:

To Darrell Smith and the Executive Board of the Nova Scotia SPCA:

I want my precious dog back now.

Until very recently, the NS SCPA website posted a mission statement with an objective on “intervention and protection” stating: “In order to protect animals from further harm we intervene in cases where their needs are not being met.” Clearly, my dog Brindi’s needs are not being met - not by Animal Services, and certainly not by the SCPA.

The SPCA’s choice to remain silent on Brindi, ostensibly due to its HRM contract, does not constitute a neutral stance. Rather, it is doubly harmful. First, it denies us its powerful assistance as an animal advocate. Second, as pound keeper, it actually facilitates HRM-ordered inhumane treatment, from the euthanization order to its refusal of my rights to visitation, rejection of an expert assessment, and denial of a foster home. In fact, SPCA is actually a party to what experts call an act of cruelty to an animal that has already suffered in a shelter for over two years of its short life, just one year since its adoption. All this, at a cost to me, as owner, of $25 a day, with part, if not all, to wind up in SPCA coffers. For me, a firm believer in pet adoption, a donor to your organization and others like it, owner of not one but three rescued animals, this is quite a blow.

To insist that the SPCA cannot intervene to protect Brindi from the harm of further confinement and/or destruction is incomprehensible and, I feel, unforgivable. By participating in the wrongful seizure of a rescue dog that has never bitten a human or caused serious injury to another dog, the SCPA appears to have traded advocacy for complicity. In fact, it may be compromising its entire mission by supporting this HRM-ordered euthanization under the guise of an incorrectly enforced by-law, itself widely regarded as unjust. For if part of a public charity operates as a private contractor, all of it ceases being a public charity.

Without SPCA help, I face certain financial ruin to prevent the unwarranted death of my dog. Please, I beg you, do not abandon your publicly supported mandate. It is urgent that you take a stand and help us now. Review the case, and allow Silvia Jay or another expert to assess Brindi to determine whether it is right for her to die.

I firmly believe that your actions will succeed in returning my dog to me in the immediate future. I sincerely hope you will agree. I may be reached at (902) 827-3716.


Francesca Rogier

Sent to the SPCA and the media on August 21.

I wish to add here: During our meeting last Monday, through its legal representative, HRM acknowledged unequivocably that it does not regard Brindi as a threat to humans.

And to clarify: I refer to the SPCA's mission statement, which until a few days ago, was published on its website. As of this writing, the page says "under construction" above a prayer by Albert Schweizer.

What is the SPCA position?

This is a response to a letter sent by Jon Stone last week to the SPCA. It is signed, appropriately enough, by its treasurer.
Normally I would not post this. But because it appears that false information being circulated about the case, it seems necessary.

I must also point out that I have no knowledge whatsoever that the SPCA is offering assistance or involved in discussions. Nor is any other group to date.

-----Original Message-----
From: james Kochanoff []
Sent: Friday, August 15, 2008 9:35 PM
Subject: RE: Mis-representation of the role of NS SPCA

Dear Jon,

Thanks for your email. You are correct on your comments.

Our shelter as are most SPCA's in the country are dependant on animal control contracts to survive. The reality is without government funding, it is the only way we can pay for investigation and housing for cruelty cases we investigate across the province.

It would be a good PR move with the public to make a statement against the HRM regarding Brindi. Unfortunately it would cut us out of city discussions in the case and that would not benefit her.

We continue to work behind the scenes to offer guidance to the HRM on the dog's behavior. It may not generate good press but it will hopefully prevent this poor dog from losing its life from the mistakes of its owner.

Please continue to voice your concerns - your comments are having an effect.


Jim Kochanoff
SPCA Treasurer

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

the aftermath

The news that the city decided not to grant my two requests reached me after 4 pm today. My lawyer leaving for South America tonight, until Sept. 2. I will have to file a claim to have a court-ordered assessment and order to move her to a foster home, as well as pursue a court case to release her. These added and prolonged legal procedures are likely to win, but not for some time. To continue this fight for my beautiful dog, I must risk my health, severe financial hardship, and a winter without heat. Surely this cannot be.


My day is almost half over, and there is no sign of how it will end. I am feeling rather disassociated from everything right now. I feel grateful for the attention given to the story; it is really more than I expected. And I am so honored by the offers of support from people everywhere, supplying me with names, suggestions, and good wishes. But for somebody who is used to spending several days a week without speaking to another human, let alone seeing one face to face, it's quite a change. My bewildered mind, seeking answers, keeps replaying a memory of Brindi's butt scooting down that back ramp, leaving me holding the muzzle and lead. 

Monday afternoon, the weather spiking into a very hot day, and on four hours of sleep, I was able to meet with Scott Hughes, the lawyer representing the city of Halifax, together with my lawyer. Without the presence of anybody from animal services, it was not the meeting we originally requested and agreed to by the city. Nor was the topic of discussion what I had hoped it would be, namely, releasing my dog. That's okay, I thought; at least we are here, speaking face to face with somebody about something. We had decided to concentrate on getting Brindi to a foster home, out of the shelter, and permission for the trainer, Silvia Jay, to see her and assess her. We talked for about an hour, maybe less, in the city's legal services office. I am not sure how it went, but Scott agreed to let us know his response by the end of the day today. 

With a deadline or two - David is on vacation after today, and Silvia starts on Monday - it is getting pretty tight. Plus, tomorrow it will be an entire MONTH since Brindi's been in the shelter. I still can't comprehend this, and the time is just fleeing away, the summer coming to an end before any of my goals are completed - namely, the house!! In March, the wood windows I ordered were ready and delivered on time, but the basement was not completed. Since then the installer has been kind enough to keep all 20 of them in his shop, a real inconvenience, I'm sure. I had expected to be ready for them by July, August at the latest, and here it is, all I have is footings and a lot of water and rocks, and the house is still on the piers. Today he called and asked about moving the windows elsewhere. Lucky for me, a kind friend of mine up the road offered to store them in her spotless, well-organized basement. They'll be within reach when the time comes. I can't wait for that. 

Meanwhile, having finally had a night of sleep, I am waiting out the day. And so, to my surprise, is the local media. May it all work out for the best! 

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"Life is life -

whether in a cat, or dog or man. There is no difference there between a cat or a man. The idea of difference is a human conception for man's own advantage."

- Sri Aurobindo, Indian scholar, evolutionary philosopher, poet, mystic, and yogi, among other things.

My thanks for this quote to Christine Heidt of Quebec, who posted it with her petition signature, prefacing it with: "People are too easily killing animals. We have heinous murderers who get better treatment just because they are humans."

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Which is it? Does it matter?

Random images. The look of joy  - Lebensfreude - on a turned-up snoot, big brown eyes rolling up at you exquisite pleasure voiced in low grunts in being readied to go outside for any reason at all, but especially, for a nice long walk in the tall grasses. Even better, a towel rub-down after she comes back from a walk soaking wet, which is about 30-40% of the time. I stretch the ends of the towel and rub it perpendicular to her back, from neck to tail. Efficient method. Also makes one happy just to see how happy it makes her. Going to the car, trotting expectantly, looking back for instructions every other step. Sitting upright there. Or, moving through the yard with me, never more than one inch from my left leg, anticipating the route, hoping for the words "cross the street". Her visible bodily struggle to maintain self-control against sheer glee. Watching her wriggle on her back as soon as we hit the lushest, deep green grasses on the slope, sometimes managing a bit of a slide, always getting really into it, legs in the air, body winding back and forth like a snake. This dog knows how to enjoy a real life and make every simple joy and basic need fulfillment a truly great experience. Ears prick straight up at a sound, a word from me. Snuggle at a moment's notice. 

When I taught her "right paw" and "left paw", it only took a few tries; in two days she had it down. I mixed my left with her right, but it's good anyhow! She loves the little routine of sit, right/left paw, down, jump up, and bang. Nothing ambitious. I was trying to work on the first step of agility : touching plastic lid, which sounds weird, but makes sense. But I can climb up boulders with her, and she hops up, on leash, as light as the proverbial mountain goat, stands on the cliff and gazes out over the inlet contentedly. If I do a few yoga postures there, or on the beach, she'll come in close and stand solidly, as if spotting me. I don't know why she started doing this, but it is rather helpful. I started calling it "doga". 
I miss her being under the desk when I am in my little office, or in the bed in the kitchen when I'm cooking, and I miss her tailing me around the house. We go down the stairs side by side: she waits at the top, won't go before me unless commanded, and prefers going together. A little tight in my narrow staircase, luckily so far I haven't tripped on the shallow treads. At the bottom, she waits, to see where I'm headed. 

When I am busy in the kitchen, I have her lie in her bed under the kitchen island table where she has a central view. Doesn't stir if the cats come along and hop up to their tabletop dishes, right over her head, and back down again. She will follow me to the bathroom and post herself outside, unless of course she sees me start the shower. Then she'll turn tail and make a beeline for the safety of her kitchen bed, not taking any chances that it might be her turn for a bath. Her great dislike of water is understandable, having been abandoned in the rain with her whole litter for God knows how long before she was found. She'll tolerate a bath without drama, when she must, to her credit. But her discomfort is clear, and not until she feels that towel rubbing her coat does she really relax.

Even after one short year, I have many stories to tell about my dog Brindi, as any dog owner would. Whether therapeutic or masochistic, I worry that the act of writing them down may have an unintended consequence of consigning all that she is to the past. Too painful to risk. 

How many times did I promise Brindi, gazing up at me with her sweet brown eyes, that she is safe with me, and nothing bad will happen to her again, that I will do everything to protect her, that I will always love her, and that we will be together always. Call me stunted, call me sentimental, but I have never made or been able to make such a promise to anyone in my life other than these helpless beings. I cannot comprehend that after such a brief time in her first real home, Brindi's life is at risk because the city believes she's a risk. And I cannot accept that I am helpless to save her: a dog that has not bitten a single person, whose "attacks" on passing dogs at the edge of my property were short-lived, and minor by any standard.

Yes, I complied with the muzzle order. Accidents will happen when your house is up on steel. And nobody was hurt in the accidental incident on July 24.  

Regardless of what anyone says, nobody could be a more committed and dutiful owner for Brindi. No dog could be more willing to learn. Under my care, there may have been a few mishaps, but none of them, none, caused serious harm. Also under my care, a dramatic transformation in this dog's life was underway that, before it was radically interrupted, was headed to correcting the source of the mishaps with love and discipline, and expert training. If my prayers are answered, and this process is allowed to continue, these mishaps will cease. And our life together can go on. 

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.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Please don't kill my dog!

Please stand by for a post for today. There's a few things to report, nothing all that great, unfortunately. Right now I am just rather knocked out by the weather and by putting up more fencing and by the talk I had yesterday with Animal Services officials. 

In the meantime, anyone seeking to help out is invited to contact the press, any and all press, preferably the national level, to spread the story. Today marks three weeks since Brindi was seized and unless there is a LOT of attention, she will be stuck there for a long time, or until my money runs out, which may not be so long.

Halifax Chronicle Herald

Letters to the editor can be emailed to

Use this link to submit a letter to the editor

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Silvia Jay's Letter

I am posting this letter with the permission of Silvia Jay, a trainer with a good deal of experience with dogs raised on first nations reserves out west. She has also put in a thousand hours working with dogs at humane societies. Silvia wrote the following as a preliminary assessment and recommendation. For Silvia's credentials, see

With my lawyer David Green's help, I hope Silvia can be granted access to see Brindi very soon. 
(To see other letters of support, click here.)

Needless to say, I miss her terribly, every moment of the day.


August 12, 2008

To Whom It May Concern,

After a lengthy phone conversation with Ms. Rogier, owner of Brindi, I feel compelled to forward my professional thoughts about Brindi’s behavior.

Please note that following statements are very preliminary only.
This letter is intended to provide an explanation for Brindi’s behavior, and an educated opinion how likely it is for Brindi to do serious damage to a dog or person (any age).

Please link directly to to read why I feel I am qualified to make these statements.

The facts that Brindi is able to attend and complete obedience class with a well known and respected training facility; that she is able to socialize and play with dogs she is familiar with; and that she is cohabitating with a cat and even allows her (the cat) around her food, indicate that Brindi is not an aggressive dog, but circumstantially reactive to dogs she perceives as a threat (imagined or real is irrelevant).

The position where a bite happens is important, because it indicates motivation. The fact that Brindi neck grabs leads me to believe that she feels unsafe and threatened.

But, her bites seem to have been very inhibited – no deep punctures or shakes, no severe damage or kills, no redirected bites to humans that go in between to break the dogs up. In other words, Brindi exhibits a good amount of self-control.

Dr. Ian Dunbar, Veterinary Behaviorist and world-renowned expert on dog behavior, states that a dog that attacks once and does severe damage is considerably more dangerous than a dog that has several incidents but does little to no damage.
In my professional experience, I agree.

To my knowledge there are no reports that Brindi ever attacked a person. She doesn’t bite a person that pulls her away from a dog she’s attacked. Every dog has the potential to bite, including Brindi. That fact that she never bit a person in the past, and that the motivator for the attacks against dogs seems to be fear, not predation, indicates that she is not any more likely to bite a person than most other dogs.

Based on my experience, the behaviors Brindi displayed are not uncommon, and euthanasia for a dog that has not killed, not done serious damage, and never attacked a person, seems unwarranted. Quite frankly, the preemptive action to euthanize to guaranty society’s safety from dog bites 100% means that almost all dogs would have to be executed.

Also, to cage a dog that lived at an overcrowded dog hoarding place again for a lengthy period of time, and to prohibit the owner, Ms. Rogier, to visit her, is cruel.

I reiterate that this is a professional opinion only, based on experience. In order to be accurate about Brindi, I would have to personally assess her. If given the opportunity, I would be willing to do that, and/or work with Ms. Rogier on an action plan how to manage Brindi better, how to get obedience where it counts – in and around her home, and how to establish a kind of leadership where Brindi feels safer and is less reactive.

With regards
Silvia Jay
Dog Behavior Expert and Professional Member of the Canadian Association of Professional Pet Dog Trainers CAPPDT
Greenfield NS

Please fence me in!

Thanks to the awesome help of my friend Jon, I have achieved a fenced enclosure for a dog run: 65 feet long, about ten feet wide, on the back of the house. Wired to sturdy metal stakes pounded into the rocky soil (more like soily rocks) and sitting right down to the ground.
No more escapes from the back door to the street (though this only happened one time, it was enough). Soon to be followed by a similar enclosure on the front. 
I kept looking over my shoulder to see Brindi while we were putting it up. It's so empty without her here. She brightens up the place so much.

Her Young Ones

I received some photos of Brindi's puppies, taken right after they were found abandoned with her about three years ago. 

They were all adopted by people in the metro Halifax area. 

Look familiar?


Monday, August 11, 2008

Hurry up and... wait...

Media update: Spent a while talking to Meredith Dault at CBC Radio 1 yesterday. The story got covered today the morning local news, with a short clip of me talking about life being important to preserve – not so profound, but it’s a point, I guess.  It was on twice - but fortunately a longer version appears in print at I'm grateful.

Also, CTV came here today. They spent an hour at the house. I showed them everything, photos, letters, petitions, the ramp... No way to know how the story will go. I don’t know how I appear on video. It's tough; I had just answered the same questions before they set up to record. Repeating myself was not easy, it came out all different. But at least they did it, and I said whatever I said. They talked to neighbors too, to get the other side of the story; hopefully nothing too terribly bad! But I will just have to wait till 6 pm to see how it turns out.

In the meantime, Lindsay Jones, who was the first reporter to call me, published her article in the Metro News. Pretty fair and objective story. The word "attack" is a hard thing to see. I think of the way Brindi grabs a dog, then I think of other stories I've heard. 

Like the one that happened yesterday - just out of HRM. A friend of mine was walking his dog on the road. A neighbor's large German Shepherd ran off its property after them, and tried to attack his dog. My friend kicked it away, and it came at him, twice biting his hand. He kicked it again, and when it kept at it, he started thinking about using a little knife with him, and he was just about to - thinking he might have to kill the dog - when its owner turned up and hauled it away. Did he call the cops? No. Why? He said the owner had always been a good neighbor, and he didn't want him to lose his dog. He expected he'd hear from him, and figured they would settle it between themselves. 

If this happened in Halifax, I wonder if the dog would have been seized and euthanized. And I also wonder: should there be a distinction between and "attack" and an attack? 

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I stole this from somebody's website, or somebody sent it to me, I'm not sure.

"If you talk with the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other.
If you do not talk to them you will not know them, and what you do not know you will fear.
What one fears, one destroys."


Saturday, August 9, 2008

To the media... and beyond!

It's well into the third week since Brindi was taken. I still haven't seen her. At least I do know she's alive. 

The court papers were filed Wednesday, so I began sending out some statements.  The Halifax Chronicle Herald kindly sent a photographer out here yesterday, and their reporter, Michael Lightstone, spoke with me by phone. 

The city spokesperson told Lightstone they were willing to sit down and talk to us. Maybe it can happen sooner than later.

There is no doubt: first, I need a fence (stay tuned). If I am fortunate enough to get her back, and nothing is certain now, it will be there to keep her in the yard.  I will comply with the muzzle order in public. Plus, I will get Brindi's recall response as foolproof as possible. I believe she can be trained to do just about anything. Me too. 

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Temporary reprieve confirmed

I am grateful for this news. This morning, my lawyer again asked the city to sit down with us and work something out. I really hope this can happen.

From: Scott Hughes
Date: Thu, 07 Aug 2008 12:07:11 -0300
To: Francesca Rogier
Cc: Andrea Macdonald
Subject: Re: Confirmation of suspension of euthanization order

Ms. Rogier,

Please be advised that I have spoken with Lori Scolaro and Andrea Macdonald at HRM Animal Control. The euthanization of your dog Brindi has been postponed until your present Court action is decided, and if necessary, any appeal routes have been exhausted. Of course, if the Supreme Court does order the dog not to be euthanized, the matter will be re-evaluated at that time. 

Sincerely, Scott Hughes

[my note: email addresses were eliminated automatically by the blogspot editor - not my doing, but perhaps it's best]

I am posting this picture not as a sign of victory, because a reprieve is simply a reprieve - the order still stands. So let this be very small gesture of hope and love. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

One more day?

Tomorrow is the day scheduled for Brindi's euthanization. 

I've requested a written confirmation from everybody I can think of, but have nothing so far. I am just crossing my fingers that SOMEBODY has pulled the right piece of paper from the right place, or however it's done, so it does not go through. 

What is going on? Not enough, not yet...
Yesterday at around 11 am, my city city counselor, David Hendsbee, met me at Tim Horton's not far from the Metro SPCA facility where Brindi is kept, and kindly listened to all I had to say. I showed him the petition and the Facebook group, as well as the many letters I received from people who know Brindi professionally and personally.  

Apparently the physical location of Animal Services office is an official secret. David suggested we first go to the SPCA and check on Brindi. I agreed, of course! All I have is word of a verbal agreement between two lawyers, and no response to the letter I faxed to the supervisor days ago.

At the SPCA, the two of us waited patiently on line while others applied for adoptions and asked to walk dogs. David only had an hour to spare before a Council session, and was dressed in a blue pinstripe suit. Being very tall as well, he easily stood out in that small office. When it was our turn half an hour later, he asked to see Brindi. The volunteer at the desk retreated to check with the manager. She came back to tell David he needed authorization from Animal Services. David waited a bit after the SPCA called in, then phoned them himself. Incidentally: David is an avid animal control proponent. He worked on the first draft of the current law, and favors the "one-bite" muzzle rule - muzzling after a dog bites a human one time. His main concern was protecting humans from dogs, and he was surprised at how the law is being enforced here. 

David was very firm, but the manager of Animal Services would not give her consent to either the two of us or David alone to see my dog. In an ironic twist, she even cited concern for Brindi as a reason: they didn't want her to become distressed after seeing her owner. Ultimately, she told David to call her boss, a police official who oversees her department. Unfortunately, that official did not answer. In the end, we left the SPCA without seeing Brindi. All I had been able to do, other than grip a chair and choke back a few sobs, was ask a volunteer to at least confirm that Brindi was still alive. She first declined, then returned to say yes, my dog was there, andis  healthy. More than that, she could not say. 

I phoned my lawyer, David Green, with the news from the parking lot. He felt the case should not have prevented them from showing my dog to a city councilman, and he said, well, we'd better file the papers right away, because it's only two days away from August 7. I agreed.

It was very tough to leave the SPCA. I spent a few minutes in the parking area, looking at the river, trying not to scream, sobbing, wondering how things ever came to this. How screwed up is my life, that now my dog has to suffer for it? I didn't want to go home. It was hard enough driving around without Brindi in the back, loving the wind on her face. I ended up doing errands and visiting people until about 5 pm, 24 hours ago from now. 

Now that the papers are being filed, or already filed, I feel I can start contacting other media, although I cannot say I am looking forward to this. But I was delighted to hear that members of the Facebook group, led by Michael Asuncion, are writing to every one of our 23 council members for help. Since the mayor's office declined my request to meet with him about Brindi, citing the court case, I am very grateful for this. 

Mike tried to fight By-Law A300 before it was passed. He even started a website: Declaw.the.byaw: How Does Bylaw A300 Harm Dogs? Other people have written to tell me that back then, they tried to tell the city that something like this would happen. 

As for me, it's hot. I am missing the best weather of the year, and so is Brindi, who trudged through about six months of winter with me. 

I am seriously afraid I am not up to this task. It would be best if I could get a fence put up, but how - I can barely keep up on the emails and calls right now. So far today, I could only manage to eat one thing: a chocolate ice cream cone. It was the only food I wouldn't gag on. I managed to do a little laundry, but my kitchen has dishes dating to before Brindi's seizure. I need to sit down and revise my construction drawings so that I can start a new contractor on the house - or else I will end up freezing through another winter. Already the footings are rotting with all the water from the heavy rains; I spotted some green algae on a few sections. My throat hurts, and it was so hoarse yesterday, I could not control the pitch at all. It sounded like it had pieces of straw poking out of it. I hope it's better if I get the chance to speak on the radio. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Too boring?

I suppose a woman losing her dog to the dogcatchers is hardly something to cause a big outcry in this world, in this year of weekly batches of civilian killings, of bombs and storms and earthquakes.

I am aware of this, and I do apologize if I am not able to put it into perspective, or if I seem to be exaggerating the impact of losing my dog to an excessive application of local by-laws. I may fail a lot, but I try always to see the pain and suffering of others; I don't doubt my few friends out there are sick of my constant "forwards" of shocking headlines and calls to action. I mourn the environment, and the burning wrecks of institutions all around. 

But a big focus of my perspective, what helps me balance it all out, is my dog, a creature I happen to love dearly and deeply. She is my life partner, and she helps me survive the world's outrages.

Pets are therapeutic. Brindi is a rescued rescuer. She kept her puppies alive in pelting rain; she gives me the strength to get up and do what needs to be done. 

For every moment of fear she may have caused on a handful of occasions, she has rewarded me, and people around, with millions of delights. She only needs, and in fact really wants, to learn. This is for some the true purpose of life. 

I made some mistakes - but my motives were good: to give her a good life. I just didn't get it all in place, in time. It now becomes my challenge to learn to speak the right sort of truth to a different side of power - the levels of power are different, the challenge is the same. 

Monday, August 4, 2008

Waiting it out in the rain

Almost two weeks!!! The longest Brindi has ever been away from me during the past year is ten days, when I had to take a trip. 

Usually it's not more than an hour or two (I know, what can I say?). She stayed in Belle Kennel, in Porters Lake, a clean, pretty place, where there are long pens in the woods for the dogs to run around in. She got along well there. But for an entire week after returning home, she would not look me in the eye. Forgiveness is not instantaneous, even for a dog. I am her trusted human, and in her eyes I am responsible for what happens to her. And I am. So how hurt and confused is she now? This awareness is impossible for me to live with.

Thank you so much to all those who visit this site, and those who signed the petition. Your comments are wonderful. To those who made proposals to take Brindi away from the area, I am very touched by your generosity. However, since my lawyer's offer was declined, it seems the city is not interested in such an alternative. I am not sorry: now it's off the table, the only options appear to be putting her down or giving her back to me. With the help of many others, I will do my best to achieve the latter. Brindi's best home is here. We are very happy together. What we need is a good FENCE, and some hard work on recall commands at special training farm like Lietash Academy, as well as on my property - even with a fence. A trainer suggested how: walking new dogs along the road, and testing Brindi's recall - probably using a lead so that she cannot get close to them.   
Let me tell you about her non-threatening behavior...
A few weeks ago, I was at the beach with Brindi, standing  in the parking area, when seven people and seven large dogs strolled by about fifty feet away. Brindi, on a stay command, just eyed them with calm interest, made a few friendly sounds, but did not lunge or pull away. I was very proud of her. She stays in the car when I open the door, waiting for my command to get out.
In the morning, while I dress, I tell her to "go downstairs", and she'll sit at the foot of the stairs until I join her. She'll do the opposite while I stay in the kitchen. She knows commands for down, right paw, left paw, up (to jump for a treat), and when I say "bang", shaping my hand into a gun, she'll drop down and lie there. She waits in her bed while I serve up her dinner, until I put her dish down and say "eat your food". When I say "go to sleep", she'll put her head down and relax - usually does go to sleep. When we walk on the road, she is trained to stand still when a car passes. Her "heel" isn't too shabby. She is not "mouthy", and I don't play tug of war with her or encourage her to gum my hand. When she affectionately greets a person, she won't lick their face, just moves in very close to look searchingly into their eyes.

Brindi rarely barks in the house. When she's out back on the line, between walks, she will bark when someone goes by, but she never protects the house from inside. She lived outside before going to the shelter; maybe it never occurs to her to guard the house from inside. I try to encourage Brindi to bark when somebody is at the door, but she rarely does. Her deep bark belongs to a dog twice her size; it can sound intimidating. But she is usually wagging her tail playfully. Around other people, male or female, she has never been protective of me, never emits a low growl as some dogs do when they get too close. If she gets jealous when I'm petting the cats, she does not attack them, just comes wagging her tail, sweetly trying to win away my attention. 

I wish I had a video of her climbing up and down boulders, or pushing her way through the wildflowers. 

Please, let's get her back!!! 


Keeping on

Another post for today: to be sure to say how very grateful I am for the new Facebook group started yesterday by Pami Pantigoso, a CET trainer out in Calgary. Already 55 members!! And so many kind words from around the globe.

Hoping that it works, I am posting a little clip so that everybody can see how great Brindi was, straight from the shelter. It is from early July last year, just three weeks after I got her on June 12. She was so afraid to let me get too far away. It was great to see her gain confidence in her surroundings every day. She is as fast as a bullet on flat beaches, and it was thrilling to see her give chase to birds I could hear but not see in the fog. Her broad chest must give her lots of lung capacity. Reminds me of reading about the famous triple crown winner, Man'O'War. Big Red: he had a muscular wide chest and bow-legs, nobody thought he'd be any good!

My god, is this real? What will it take to get her back?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

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.