Friday, October 31, 2008

Please, put your mouth where your money is!

(Yes, I wrote the title that way on purpose.)

This is another sincere appeal to the Nova Scotia SPCA: please live up to your mission and help me and my dog. Please.
I realize you are concerned about your contract to run a pound - and rightly so, because it brings good compensation. But it also brings an automatic conflict of interest. Yet this is no reason not to "walk your talk", to be who your dog-owning public thinks you are.

After three months, publicly declaring neutrality, yet being paid to keep my dog locked up; is it possible for you to be sure of your mission? Are you really content to keep Brindi so long, and then - should I lose, go broke, and/or give up, heaven forbid - go ahead kill her on some unknown date? Really?

To the public, the SPCA's job is to look out for the welfare of all animals, and that means all animals; why should there be any exclusions? Running the pound is not your primary task; it should never preclude helping the unfortunate animals in the pound. They are among those who need you the most.

I understand that the board is new, or partly new. I understand you all have a lot to do and that you are all dedicated volunteers, and equally dedicated employees. I understand you are interested in restoring your relationship with the public and showing you really do put animals first. But I do not understand why you don't begin with just one animal, Brindi. She's be a great place to start! Heaven knows she's paid her dues in spades. She was the longest resident of Celtic Pets on record, over two years. I'm pretty sure she's been a patient and understanding good girl, just like she was there, and just like I have been for over three months.

I have no other advocate to turn to other than my lawyer, who, like all lawyers, comes at a pretty steep price. A lot of folks are trying to raise money to help me afford his help - money that could be going to help other animals instead. And my lawyer, as good as he is, does not have what you have.

You wield a great deal of power and influence in this province and in this city when it comes to animal control issues, although you may not realize it or choose to take advantage of it. You are trusted by the public and their elected officials. You are paid to hold the monopoly on anti-cruelty enforcement in the province. You are contracted by the city of Halifax to be its sole poundkeeper, and your contract continues for years. A new contractual period begins in March 2009, but your actual six-figure contract keeps going, according to your annual report. You influence public opinion, including the opinions of other animal welfare groups. You accept donations from hardworking people who believe you exist primarily to look after the interests of animals. You run the Metro Shelter directly, so you also look after Brindi every day. You work closely with Animal Services personnel every single day, and like no elected official, lawyer, or member of the public, you have their ear on many matters, including their policy of not allowing owners to visit their dogs in the pound, not to mention their methods of enforcement.

I am told your staff no longer use a rabies pole when they walk Brindi. That is good news, although I'm not sure at what point exactly this changed. I am told she is now allowed to use the outdoor pens. That is very good news as well, although it is no longer summer or fall weather. I hear that Brindi has been her usual good-natured self in your care, which is her survival mode, long-practiced in her two-year stay; she can't be her best self, show off her best, I'm afraid. And I worry that she'll need to relearn all the commands she was taught and spent hours practicing with me, after being in a cage so long. She doesn't know she's supposed to be killed, of course, or at least I don't think she does. But I worry that deep inside, she's hurt, but has resigned herself to a life behind bars, not understanding what happened. Will she ever trust me or feel secure again? But she's not herself anymore, and, I'm sure many will agree, neither am I.

I have no way of being sure, but I am worried many people mistakenly assume that
since the SPCA has not spoken in our defense, we must be guilty. Worse, I fear
some of them may have been misinformed, and passed on the information. It's pretty hard for a single dogowner to contradict the authority of the SPCA, blog or no blog.

I know you have an enormous task ahead of you as you plan for the care of a number of potential animals who will need you in the future. But Brindi is a real live dog. She was rescued once already, then put in a shelter-for very possibly longer than any dog in the province in recent memory. She's right there in your building, every day. Why not help her right this second, and help me get her back home where she belongs?


I can only report that my lawyer is working on something called an "interim application", which could speed things up a bit in terms of court. I remain hopeful that somehow, some way, we can finally sit down with the human beings who have the discretionary power of life and death over dogs in this municipality.

I wish they would regard my attempt to save my dog's life as necessary and right, not as a threat to their authority. They know better than anybody that the law is not perfect and the system needs improvement.

The world may be a tough place; nevertheless it is not a sign of weakness to change a decision. When it means sparing a life, being flexible enough to change your mind is the greatest strength there is.

Open, strong, flexible, balanced...

Trick or?

I was going to post a picture from last year of Brindi wearing a Halloween mask. Halloween was always my favorite holiday (or non-holiday), next to Easter. But I don't feel very festive today.
So for now, I want to post this picture of what used to be a sight I saw every day, a bit to the right of my bed-top computer, just as it is located to the right of this text.
Well, except for the roses. I never saw those every day. But who does?

Two poems to remember


Despite illness of body or mind,
in spite of blinding despair or habitual belief,
who you are is whole.
Let nothing keep you separate from the truth.
The soul, illumined from within,
longs to be known for what it is.

Undying, untouched by fire or the storms of life,
there is a place inside where stillness and abiding peace reside.
You can ride the breath to go there.

Despite doubt or hopeless turns of mind,
you are not broken.
Spirit surrounds, embraces, fills you from the inside out.
release everything that isn’t your true nature.
What’s left, the fullness, light, shadow,
claim all that as your birthright.

– Danna Faulds


There is healing in the laying on of hands;
in the letting to of fear,
in asking for help,
in silence, celebration, prayer.
There is healing in speaking the truth
and in keeping still,
in seeking sunlight
and not shunning struggle.
Laughter and the affirmation of wholeness
hold their own healing.

When the soul dances,
when the day begins in delight,
when love grows and cannot be contained,
when life flows from moment to moment,
healing happens in the space between thoughts,
and the breath before the first sung note.

Healing is a birthright and a grace.
When we dare to be open to the unknown,
when we extend ourselves in caring,
when we welcome in the vast expanse of life,
healing comes from the heart,
and blossoms from the inside out.

– Danna Faulds

I am indebted to my yoga teacher, Lisa Grainger, for making me aware of the first poem. I discovered the second while searching for the author of the first.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Another letdown

In order to get Brindi out before Christmas (the earliest court date we could get is December 16), my lawyer and I have been working hard to get Animal Services to finally sit down and talk.
Today, Scott Hughes, the HRM legal counsel, sent a brief note (three lines) to my lawyer to say that Animal Services are not willing to appear at a meeting he had tentatively scheduled this week. No explanation. He did offer to meet with my lawyer, alone, but not until next week. No explanation for that delay either.

I did not publicize the possibility of this meeting in advance. I didn't want to get anybody's hopes up, especially mine. And my lawyer felt it would be more respectful of the city. Maybe that was a mistake, though, because this is the second time a meeting with Animal Services fell through. The last time, in August, the HRM spokesperson, Deborah Story, informed the press that all parties involved would be meeting within a week or so. It never happened.

A meeting took place, but not the one advertised. Only HRM counsel Scott Hughes appeared at the agreed on date and time. He had notified my lawyer at the time, only an hour earlier, that Andrea Macdonald and Lori Scolero would not attend. We agreed to meet with him anyway, so that we could put forward requests for an assessment and a foster home, backed by all the support letters and sound argumentation we could muster. But a few days later, he simply rejected the requests, again with little or no explanation.

I'm told I have a pretty good case. I'm not all that concerned about the case itself, knock on bone. The chief problem is time. Well, time and money. And the energy cost, and the strain on dog and woman, of course. Okay, there are four chief problems. By December 16, Brindi will have been confined in the pound for nearly five months. She was seized in the height of summer; it will be mid-winter then. A dog's life is relatively short. Each month of her life is more like a year or six months to us. By now, with two years in one shelter, another five months (if she gets out in December) in the pound, at five years old, nearly half of her life will be wasted behind bars.

Again, I have no intention of dropping this fight. There may not be much left of my life by the time she's back home, but I cannot abide the injustice of destroying a life for no good reason. Any life. When that life happens to be my responsibility, I will do whatever it takes. If I were Bill Gates, I'd gladly pay China whatever it wants in exchange for an end to their sick practice of putting bears in cages they can hardly crouch in, and hooking up tubes to extract their bile for so-called medicine. But I'm not Bill, I'm only Francesca. All I can really do is make sure all three animals in my care have good lives. They are all rescue animals. And I refuse to allow Brindi, who was abused as a young dog, to lose her only forever home, and become a victim a poorly conceived, unregulated system that is quite frankly (think of poor Ducky) out of whack and out of control.

There are folks on all fronts here who agree that the animal control system needs work. And I am sure nobody enjoys knowing what is happening with Brindi and me. But it's not enough to make sympathetic noises about it. And it seems to me that it is in the interest of Animal Services and the entire city government to resolve this case as soon as possible. In fact, Mr. Hughes did express an interest in a quicker resolution in August, when he urged us to drop the lawsuit in favor of a one-day injunction (a gamble, but a possibility). He even cited my dog's welfare as a main reason, i.e., the length of her "incarceration", and he also cited the added cost of a lengthy trial to the city coffers.

I have to say it again, at the risk of losing readers: cities represent the pinnacle of civilization, east and west. They are centers of business and industry, but also of art, literature, intellect, spirituality, knowledge, and wisdom. These things are not exclusive to cities of course, but it is in cities where they are sought and nurtured most. So why should cities engage in the slaughter of a species of animal so highly valued that people spend millions on them, their care and feeding, and a vast array of toys and clothes, including Halloween costumes? Why should cities be proud of putting dogs down, when it's been shown time after time, for years now, how unnecessary it is, even with so-called "aggressive" dogs. Best Friends, Cesar, and my future trainer, Silvia Jay, among many, many others. It's also been shown that behind every aggressive dog is a human who made it that way, through breeding or treatment. Most dogs are born to love and learn and play and be our companions. After all, humans spent thousands of years breeding them for that very purpose. But that's another discussion.

What's the next move? I really don't know. Yet.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Photos of Oct. 4 vigil

Jenn Richardson's Nova Scotia Duck Toller, Chessie, was among the dozen or so canines on hand for the vigil, which marked the feast day of St. Francis, and World Animal Day.

TV images courtesy of Jon Stone, taken of video shot by a very nice CTV cameraman.

Jon Stone and Bob Riley, with Richard Koekman in the background.
If you look closely in upper right photo, you may spot an orb right above Jon's head.

Bullet (I think it's him at least), dressed for the occasion.

Linda Koekman with Samara and Spirit.
Photos courtesy of Gail Gallant.

Monday, October 27, 2008

"There are no good dogs or bad dogs, just dogs."

This is from an anonymous comment on an excellent and very kind blog post by Granny regarding Brindi:

... I cannot fathom why this case has not been resolved. As a member of an SPCA outside the province, I can attest that we get plenty of dogs just like Brindi. Dogs that were not socialized with other animals, dogs that were not spayed/neutered until we got 'em. Dogs that have had a tough life. Many have dogs they don't like but are fine with some others (often with no rhyme or reason to us humans), some don't really like any other dogs. With patience and training, many will learn, but it doesn't happen overnight and it sounds like in the short time Francesca had Brindi, the dog had already made progress. I believe that Francesca and Brindi deserve that chance.

As much as we'd like to think we progress, sometimes it seems in ways we are going backward. When I was a child, cases like this were settled among neighbours. If your dog got in fight with another dog, you felt shitty about it, apologized to each other, settled up and it was over. People just knew it was a dog being a dog and didn't take it as a personal affront to themselves. Too many people anthromorphize and expect dogs to act and reason like people. If people could understand there are no good dogs, no bad dogs, just dogs.

October 25, 2008 2:44 PM

The last paragraph sums up my exact feeling dating from the first time Brindi was reported, since in each instance I did my best to act as she describes.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Compare and contrast, in 25 words or less

I note the following, taken from the Animal Advocates website:

The SPCA in Surrey, B.C., has seized a homeless man's dog because it bit a stranger — but the man says his pet was just trying to protect his owner.

Ed Chase said one of his two dogs, Raymond, was taken away almost three weeks ago (July 23 or thereabouts) and was deemed a dangerous dog by the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Chase said the SPCA has decided to put down the dog and notified him of a court proceeding on July 31. Earlier, the SPCA said it hadn't made a decision about whether the dog would be euthanized.

Chase said his dog was trying to save him after a man hit him.

Ed Chase and his dog, Darryl His other dog, Raymond, a German Shephard, was seized in mid-July.

SPCA does damage control: Surrey Now

... "It's going to trial on April 1, 2009," SPCA spokeswoman Corry Anderson-Fennell said later that day, stressing it was the city, not her organization, that asked for the destruction order."
"[BC SPCA spokesperson Lorie] Chortyk said the [$5000] fine doesn't make sense and won't be enforced..."
Read article>>
Anderson-Fennell isn't quoted explaining that the BC SPCA is the City's paid enforcer. It's true that the City makes the rules, but the SPCA takes money to carry them out. It is paid to apply for destruction orders. But the SPCA doesn't have to take money to control/dispose/destroy dogs... it chooses to. Surrey could choose to run its own municipal pound and enforcement as so many other municipalities have chosen to since 2001. These new animal control municipalities all improved the standard of animal welfare over that of the SPCA which they replaced.

Animal Advocates observe:

The Animal Welfare agency mandated to protect animals from people is taking money to protect people from animals, and in the process, killing animals rather than speaking for them.

Animal control contracts is a subject that the BC SPCA seldom mentions, and in fact, when the public became aware of the SPCA's role as the paid dog-catcher/disposer/destroyer in Surrey, (the SPCA) tried to deflect that understanding in a Surrey Now article and in several radio interviews. What is needed in our opinion is an application through Surrey FOI to find out how many dogs the SPCA has applied to kill in the many decades it has been the paid animal control contractor for the City of Surrey, and in all municipalities where the SPCA has been the paid dog-catcher/disposer/destroyer.
There was more media uproar over an SPCA destruction order than we have ever been aware of before. CBC radio and TV, FaceBook group and petition, The Vancouver Sun, Metro News, 24 Hours News, radio, an online poll and many search engines were lit up with comment by concerned, even enraged animal lovers. Googling bc spca ed chase gets over 2400 hits. Some of the commentators appear to have understood the conflict in an animal welfare society (which gets approximately $20 million a year from animal lovers to protect animals from humans), being paid to protect humans by killing animals. There is a long history of the SPCA changing its mind after the media reveals something that creates outrage. The media now includes the internet, the medium that can't be spun by p.r. We believe it is the internet that is going to change the way animals are treated, all over the world.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Three months: nobody's priority

There comes a time when you find yourself unable to utter a word, let alone write, not because you don't have anything to say, but because you have already said so much to so many without any shred of a discernible effect, as far as real results are concerned. I am a usually very expressive. Okay, I talk too much and write too much, just like I used to eat too much. Not anymore. Eating is a chore. Fighting is a bore. Writing is painful. I am sick and tired of it. I feel like I am trying to free a suspected terrorist. All I want is my dog back. Just a dog. I will happily promise we won't bother anybody ever again. If I survive.

Folks love to say, "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger." There may be some truth in this, but I wouldn't advise believing it until you have actually survived something. Till then it's anybody's bet. You might become stronger, or you might be thoroughly crushed. The best you can do then, I suppose, is pray for acceptance, try to forgive, and somehow, some way, move on, trying to avoid the same thing. I don't know or care about that right now; I can't see past today. And today, well, frankly, today really, really sucks.

Two days ago I drove the stretch of highway and bridges to Halifax in the gray rain, listened to people talking about dogs and how to control and regulate and protect them, and then drove home again. Fortunately I had some company in the car; otherwise, I am not sure I would have made it back. I totally forgot to check CTV news, both evening broadcasts. (I missed the news because I was watching a PBS program on the 1968 Chicago Ten trial, wow! Where are those Yippies when you need 'em?) I had attended the SPCA press conference in the afternoon, and afterwards reporter Kelland Sundahl interviewed me, but wasn't certain if I would be included in the broadcast. Probably a good thing; I may have been more outspoken than my lawyer would like. That evening I went to a "flow yoga" class and fought back the emotions rising, as they always do during yoga, while the mind is focusing on breathing. The rest of the time I leave my "self" on autopilot, and by that I mean a numbness impenetrable to any to-do list, the coming winter, my finances, work, housecleaning, or anything else, other than TV and the occasional meal. More awareness-engaging activity, including this blog, threatens to set me into hysterics. As soon as my brain is working comes the risk of grasping reality again and my reality, forgive me for saying again, really, really sucks. Still I have had a lot of hysterics, perhaps too much or not enough. My dog is not dead, yet I grieve terribly, for time lost, for suffering, for what may yet come. Some may wonder why I haven't gotten over it, why I am still so devastated at this late date, why I don't just get on with life. Well, all I can say is, everybody does the best they can, and I don't feel the need to apologize or defend myself. But I take my hat off to anybody who can deal with it better - I invite them to teach me how.

Today is yet another dreaded "Badiversary": three months since two men in uniforms arrived, shut the door on my beautiful dog curled up obediently in a cold metal cage, and drove off. Imagine knowing that you spent three months working as much as you can to get your dog back, yet you haven't got anywhere. Yes, there are many people, most of them total strangers to me, who have come to my aid, and tried, and are still trying, to help. Yes, there was some press, mostly good, but not enough apparently. Yes, there are petitions and letters and a good start at raising funds. And I am lucky to have the help of a very intelligent lawyer, with a court application or two.

But the closest court date we could get is December 16, which means that unless something else happens, Brindi is sure to suffer nearly five months of "impoundment". A famous TV dog trainer told me at the fourth or fifth week with absolute certainty that Brindi will be a "write-off" if she is in the pound for five months. (Then he proceeded to dress me down mercilessly, placing full blame on me for the situation mainly because I told him she sleeps on my bed. But that's another story.)

Before this happened, it is not as if my life were a bed of roses; I hardly socialized for the past, oh, say eight years, for one reason or another, mainly work. I was not happy about it, but I was more or less used to the isolation. In the past two years, and especially this past summer, I was struggling to get major construction underway, taking leaps upon leaps of faith. I went to a small worship group twice a month, and the eight-week yoga class twice a year, and that's about it. My dog was my main activity partner, and on an average day, she and I rarely even saw or spoke to another human being. We did visit neighbors, and go to the beach, as well. I don't do that anymore. I can't very well go visit Hermann and Teddy, his shih-tzu, alone. I can't feel comfortable hanging out in the pet food store alone. Knowing that some customers have harassed the owner for supporting Brindi, a dog she knows and likes, makes it hard to be there.

A small worship group of a denomination widely known for their great tolerance and practice of peaceful non-violence to whose gatherings I gladly drove 45 minutes for the last two years, and whose support I cherished, practically vanished into thin air since Brindi was taken and seem content to go on without me as they file for a higher status within the organization. I don't know what to say, except that it hurt me more than I can say.

One of Brindi's Angels put in a lot of time calling ministers and priests, looking for somebody to accompany me to the shelter to ask to see Brindi and put the St. Francis medal on her collar. None would agree to do it, including a retired police chaplain who came highly recommended from an ex-cop. He was hard to locate. But he turned me down flat, saying only that he would pray for us. I also spoke for nearly an hour to the local parish priest, but he restricted his help to offering to bless the medal, for fear of alienating parishioners.

During the past three months, I have written dozens of animal groups of one kind or another, from PETA down to the local rescue groups, from the start. Many others did the same on my behalf. I failed to win any support from such groups. The SPCA, rather than speak up on Brindi's behalf, continues to insist that by virtue of its role as poundkeeper its mission to "intervene in animal welfare cases" is automatically voided for any animal unlucky enough to be caught by Animal Services, regardless of circumstance, and that this suspension of its charity function, in order to protect its $300,000-plus contract, is legitimate. No conflict of interest is recognized. And the shelter manager had a friend arrested a few hours after he happened to utter the phrase "Nuremberg Defense" on hearing yet again the explanation of why they cannot help Brindi. Early on, I must note again, the SPCA misinformed many people about my case, which may or may not be responsible for a lot of the silence among dog rescue groups. I certainly understand the SCPA are going through a lot of changes, and bravo for that. But after three months, you'd think they would have done something to try and set the record straight. I know in response to many calls about Brindi they were quick to post a disclaimer on their website, saying they have no say in the outcome of her case. They do, however, execute the city's orders, as a core part of the entire system. But I'm back to the Nuremberg Defense again. Befehl ist Befehl, or in this case, Geschäft ist Geschäft. Enough said.

I have written and spoken to politicians from the local up to the federal level, many times apiece. I wrote and forwarded various other writings, including the petitions, to the provincial minister of justice, the mayor, and to Sgt. McNeil, the by-law enforcement officer in charge of Animal Services, with no response. Same with Animal Services itself: no response to letters, with the exception of a denial without explanation in answer to my fourth in a series of letters I sent requesting permission to see Brindi. I and others have written the Dog Whisperer, Oprah, Ellen, Sarah McLachlan (I think), W5, and plenty of public-minded programs, also to no avail. I'm sure I missed a lot more. I am also sure I'd rather not remember them all.

I should say it is not quite true that no group is supporting me at all: recently, some wonderful law students at Dalhousie from a group dedicated to animal law volunteered to help with the case by doing research, an offer I and my lawyer gratefully accepted. And of course, a group formed on Facebook, all on its own, actually. With some dedicated women who truly love dogs that have embraced me and Brindi without hesitation, and I love them so much for this. I am very fortunate to have support from these many individuals; they have not been silent or scarce. There are over 800 Facebook members, led by a dedicated advocate from Montreal, and a solid core of individuals supporting me. And folks from here to California are donating to the defense fund. Here, we held a little march through downtown, and a little vigil at the SPCA. The petitions continue to grow.

And to his credit, David Hendsbee, my local councilor who met Brindi on two occasions, did his best within his busy life; among other things, he presented the online petitions (turned down by the clerk) to the HRM Council in mid-September. The minutes do not record any ensuing discussion, however. David also spoke to the radio and has written letters to the police and Animal Services asking that I be allowed to see Brindi - with no response. He was turned down himself, when he went to the SPCA to make sure she was even still alive.

But driving back from the city two days ago, the words "nobody's priority" came to mind and stuck. Not that we ever were - or should be - anybody's first priority. It sure would be nice, though!! And it wouldn't be for long, just enough to get her back!

I know that Brindi and I are of concern to many, and for that I am grateful, don't get me wrong. I am single, I am new here, and I am not a longstanding member a company, faculty, parish, club, or other group, so the most I can hope for is to be one of many priorities people have. But despite this, and at the risk of wallowing, I must say it: we are in a great big bottomless void. Among those who can do the most to help, I fear we are simply never going to be a priority. At first, the local politicians were busy with their campaigns before the October 18 election. During the campaign, at least one councilor, Linda Mosher, who was re-elected, told a constituent she deletes any email with Brindi in the title, without reading it. (In the states, senators and representatives are required to answer voter mail. Is this the case here??) Now that it's over, well... word gets back to me that at least a few publicly shake their heads and say it's not right. But Brindi remains locked up all the same.

Because I was not charged with any offense, I did not earn a day in court; I must pay for it instead, and handsomely – it could total a year's income for some people by the time it's over. Attempts to avoid the delay and the cost by dealing directly with Animal Services failed, at least so far. Getting support from city officials is nearly impossible, because as a result of not being charged with a violation, I must take the city to court to save Brindi's life. To a great extent this is necessitated by the law the councilors created, but like the mayor, most claim they cannot get involved because the case is before the courts. Because of the court case, I cannot even get on the agenda to speak to Council - even if I talked about rutabagas, I have a feeling.

This situation makes the city of Halifax worthy of a Joseph Heller novel. Even the US Army, whose current privatized state was predicted by Heller's Catch-22, relented only a few weeks after it banned a woman soldier from taking a puppy home from Iraq. Thank heaven. According to petitions, Ratchet would have been killed if left behind; moreover, army policy prohibits soldiers from keeping pets (stupidly, it seems to me: what better way to prevent or heal post-traumatic stress syndrome? What better way to keep the soldiers civilized, just like the effects of dogs in prisons? Much cheaper than therapy and healthier than medications!).

The day I went to the city, the radio announced Ratchet could finally follow his military mama home to the US. I reflected on this as I drove pass Burnside, the industrial park where Brindi is behind bars at the SPCA. Who would have thought that the Pentagon can be moved, and pretty quickly, more easily than HRM?

The misconceptions and half-truths that abound despite my best efforts, are daunting, and, I fear, may be responsible for the lack of support from "official" animal rescue and other groups. For instance, stories are circulating that Brindi "ripped open" a dog's stomach, and the dog nearly had to be put down. And a letter circulated by an SPCA official declared that I had had many chances, had gone before a judge and lost, so I shouldn't expect to save her. Both totally and utterly false, which anyone could determine, if they bothered to get the facts; both harmful and, actually, libelous, but that's no help now. I just want my dog back.

Or another apparently widespread misconception that, it seems to me, a bit of media coverage could do a lot to dispel (will somebody out there please write an in-depth newspaper article on all these issues???) : the notion that there is some sort of "three strikes and you're out" policy under the law. A CBC radio news reporter I spoke to a few weeks ago believed a three-strike policy exists. Chances are a lot of people in Halifax do as well. But there is no such thing, and thank heaven. By-Law A300 has absolutely no set number of violations beyond which a dog must be destroyed. It has no set anything, as far as I can tell, other than a short list of possible actions that can be taken.Contrary to popular belief, these possible actions, including the destruction of a dog, should the animal control officer see fit to do them, can be taken at any time, without verification of facts (which unfortunately is seldom possible), or the owner's consent or knowledge. No judge, no expert assessment, no time period is mandated by the law (nor are they prohibited, of course). No confirmation of facts is even required, and it may not even be possible. And, dare I say it again, this includes muzzle orders: there is absolutely NOTHING in the law that requires or forces Animal Services to seize and kill a dog because of a presumed muzzle order violation - contrary to the insistence of the supervisor and manager. Read the law: it's just not there. What is there, they did not do: namely, charge the owner with a violation. If they had, things would be very, very different today.

Nor did they follow a procedural policy that Animal Services publishes on its web page, namely, that if a dog appears to be dangerous, the department seizes it first, then investigates to determine what action to take. This is particularly odd, since I have become aware of at least a dozen cases in HRM during the past year that were handled quite differently (sample month in which owners of dogs believed to have bitten humans were duly charged, and with one exception, either fined, or had the charges withdrawn. I don't think there was even a muzzle order involved.

So, fellow campers, it would appear that Animal Services found a loophole in the law, created their own policy, and used it to great effect. This loophole landed, or pushed, Brindi and me into a legal, bureaucratic, social, political, and cultural nomansland.

Now, on this past Wednesday morning, Mayor Kelly was kind enough to keep an appointment scheduled nearly a month ago with a group of five people to discuss A300. The original reason for this appointment was to help free Brindi. I refer to Linda Koekman's little story of a dog named Faith, posted below, circulated to all councilors and the mayor, to which the latter responded with an offer of help. Shortly afterwards, citing the court case, mayoral staff retracted the offer. Linda persisted, settling on the appointment, with the understanding that Brindi could not be discussed. I was not sure I would or should go, at first. But at the time, October 22 seemed so far off, and I wanted to believe that Brindi would be out of the pound by that date. The idea that she was there for even one night was wretched enough. Then there was the first week, then three, then the prospect of five or six with the court case. All of it makes me ill.

So, since to my great sorrow, Brindi was still in the pound by October 22 after all, I felt it necessary to join the discussion, since the appointment originated with Brindi, and since I wanted to hear what the mayor would say about A300 and its enforcement. I was happy to stick to the rules: don't mention the dog. Joan Sinden, that fearless, tireless blogger-ette, prepared a number of materials to hand over, including a chart of previous by-law prosecutions. Several good points were made. Above all, the meeting taught me (again) of the vast gap between how city officials think A300 works, and how it is actually affecting dogs and people (unevenly!). My councilor had no idea that it protects dogs and people equally - punishing dogs equally for attacking either. Regardless of the years of discussion predating A300, cats or no, the fact is, the law was written by a police officer charged with all by-law enforcement. Some, but not all, of the objections raised by the public helped improve it, and some recommendations made by the officer, such as choice of terminology, were not adopted at all. As one of the group pointed out, since when is law written by those who enforce it?

And since when does the law completely omit any sort of appeal process or checks and balances? Add to this list the right to go before a judge: the law appears to provide this, in calling for charges for violations (fines or other), yet it does not require it in all cases, apparently, as in my case, where my dog was taken, but I was never charged with anything, no fine, nothing. Needless to say, I would gladly pay a $222 fine instead of $12,000 in legal costs, plus the boarding costs for five months of my dog's life, and the loss of a chunk of her lifetime, easily equivalent to five years of a human's life.

So I was grateful for the opportunity to be present during the discussion. It was a long-awaited dialogue, just a start, but we were able, I think, to point out a few things the mayor was not aware of. Nobody is saying that dangerous dogs should be allowed to run around and hurt people. Nobody is saying that there should be no penalties.

The question is, what is going to be done to prevent another Brindi? Or another Ducky, for that matter? That question goes to everybody in this town, including the SPCA, along with a much more pressing question for everybody:
just who is willing to make rescuing Brindi NOW a priority??!!

It's not that it can't be done. It could happen any day. Just because there is a court case does not mean public officials are prohibited from acting. In fact several kinds of officials could act, should they choose to, and it seems to me they could act in any number of ways; from requesting a review of the case by Animal Services, to suspending the law in some way. At the very least, somebody could at least see to it that I am allowed to visit Brindi in the SPCA Metro Shelter. To be charged $25 a day for boarding - more expensive than my kennel - while being denied visiting rights, must be cruel and unusual punishment by any measure, especially since I haven't been charged with anything, and the court date is so far away. It's like paying for a loved one to be held at Guantanamo Bay, said a friend. I tend to agree. Don't blast me for saying it, until you're in my situation, please; I don't mean to equate the pound with that hell-house, I am just trying to make a point: NO comparison should be possible, if things were done right.

I am hopeful that with new board members, things on that score might change. They have a lot of work cut out for them. I was glad to learn at the press conference that I may be able to meet with one of them soon. But my optimism is cautious, as I was also told up front to expect things to change "slowly", even though Brindi is a recognized "casualty" of the recent state of affairs. Not exactly reassuring words, after three months not seeing her, the discovery of the use of the rabies pole and no outside pen, the arrest of a friend for criminal harassment, and the false information (not to mention having the cops called on me on October 4 when I parked across the street from the Metro Shelter, sat in the car and cried, after the march through town). Whoever called, called more than once, and oddly, identified me as someone who "might not be okay". The shelter manager clearly saw me and could tell it was my red car when she put out the trash. Fortunately, the woman officer answering the call was a very good listener and became very sympathetic when she heard the story; in a way, I was glad she showed up). The question is: why isn't Brindi a priority for them?

Of course there is more to discuss about the meeting and about the press conference, worth mentioning, but I can only do that after I recover a bit more from the experience - not because they were so awful as such; on the contrary, in many ways, they were both very constructive on many fronts. I was glad I went; I also got to meet a few true animal advocates. It's just I arrived home to my dog-less, heatless, cellar-less, chaotically lifted house, a threat of losing my heritage grant now hanging over my head, and was hit with a terrible realization. I had spent the day among well-meaning people, but all were talking theory, while my living, breathing, loving dog is still locked up. Am I any closer to seeing her, let along bringing her home, than I was three months ago? No, not really. So, my Thursday was a wreck, and the day after that, and probably a lot of days to come.

So here's the thing: unless somebody is willing to make it a priority to save Brindi from death (and the eternal threat of death via a muzzle), she is doomed to wait till Christmas, and possibly longer, and/or may end up dying. This is the truth, not me being pessimistic. And it's a truth I have to live with every day, like it or not, and every day, it kills me. I have no choice but to continue fighting for her, not for the sake of pride or stubbornness, but because I love this dog, and I need this dog, and she needs me. And in principle, I refuse to let any government ignore this important bond of mine, as a human being, and take away my non-aggressive dog from her only loving home ever and kill her in the name of public safety that it admits she doesn't threaten (generally, "public" equals "human") .

Let me add, what a fallacy it is to refer to these orders to destroy as "humane euthanization". Humane for whom? Let's call a spade a spade: it's a kill. Euthanasia really means a painless mercy killing. Animal euthanization is humane when it involves an animal near death and/or in tremendous pain. There is nothing humane about killing a healthy dog with a good home and an owner committed to training her and fencingher in. Even if a dog trained to fight or one that is very vicious is seized, putting it down is not "humane" or "euthanization", but simply, destruction of life presumed necessary for the sake of humankind. Like eliminating pests. Not in my name, thank you. Sometimes courts agree (three words: Michael Vick's pit bulls. Either adopted or sent to Best Friends; none killed).

Last week I talked to Jean Hanlon, the owner of a sweet old kitty named Ducky that Animal Services mistakenly and swiftly "humanely euthanized" in August solely on the strength of her neighbor's signed statement that the 17-year old angora was a stray. (His single comment afterwards: Oh, was that your cat?) Jean is now selling her house. I hope she won't mind me sharing this, but she asked me whether I, like her, find the experience is changing me, and not necessarily for the better. Sadly, I had to say yes, it is changing me, inwardly hoping it isn't, but certain it is, all the same. Will I still trust people? Is there a choice?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Oct. 4: Feast of St. Francis Vigil to Bless the Animals at Burnside

Well, it's been a while since my last post, and I apologize. Still recovering from last week, which was quite a whopper. Seems like this week is more of the same - a series of troubling discoveries, mos tof which are better left unmentioned. And my laptop, with all its stored emails, documents, notes, is still in repairs. I hope I see it again someday. My car stereo broke completely on the day of the downtown march. I don't want to complain though, I'm just glad my 15 year-old Chrysler still works, knock on fake wood!

The most important thing to say up front is, as I am a big fan of St. Francis, patron saint of animals and the environment (and, incidentally, a restorer of churches) I want to hold a silent candlelight vigil on his feast day this Saturday, for Brindi as well as all of the precious animals held in the Burnside pound and the shelter. In the Catholic tradition, all animals receive special blessings on St. Francis' feast day.

The vigil will be a time to come together and pray, meditate, or simply think good thoughts about the animals, depending on our individual persuasions. It all amounts to blessings. The vigil will start at 7 pm, eleven minutes after sunset, and go for about an hour. Everybody welcome, on two and four legs, or any combination thereof.

On Monday, I sent another request to Animal Services for permission to see Brindi. Two weeks ago, after sending three letters in a row, I got a written refusal. There is no law or written policy banning it, and I suppose I could file a request for a court order to visit her, but the cost of the rest of the legal action is already so high. I just paid a healthy sum and am about to do so again, as the work continues. Whatever the Brindi Defense Fund amounts to will certainly be a help, but at the moment, I fear, it lags well behind the running total of expenses (about... a tenth, I would say?). I am optimistic about it, however!

I just figured out today is Wednesday...! Missed my Tuesday yoga class! And I should mention that the Tuesday city hall "Meet and Treat" events dropped off a bit, but will resume. On a brighter note, my councilor, David Hendsbee, was kind enough to present our online petitions to the session last week. The minutes have not been published yet.

I noticed a good column in the Community Herald by Angela Monbourquette reviewing municipal election issues. She did include the by-law, but only in terms of cats - sections calling for tags and leashes that were deleted in June. The remaining issues of A300 ought to be considered as well, it seems to me. I hope she'll think about it.

In August, there was a wonderful posting about Brindi at For the Love of the Dog - They are "Man's Best Friend" - Are We Theirs?" Today, the blog's compassionate owner, Deanna, who lives in Wisconsin kindly did an update. Thank you, Deanna! On, Wisconsin!